“I started another novel in the country, by the aging pool with its shimmering poplars. The pool chair was so old that the fabric had ripped from the frame. Anyone who sat back in it literally caved in. The sky had clouded over by the time I’d awakened and though I was badly burned, I was also shivering, my teeth literally chattering as if I had a fever. I couldn’t remember very much what I’d read either, even the title eluded me, but I also wasn’t sure if I’d read anything at all since the scene described was so uncannily close to the setting I was reading in.”
“It was some kind of literary science fiction which also takes place by a pool on a seemingly uneventful afternoon in August. The main character, Forster, goes to the deep end of the pool and dives in, only from the moment he touches the water he realizes that he is not coming back and that he’s now become immersed in the primordial ooze. His wife, who has been napping, calls out his name. When he doesn’t respond she simply dozes back off. It’s dark by the time she finally awakens for good. She calls her husband’s name out again and, smelling meat grilling in the distance, thinks that he has simply surprised her by cooking dinner. It doesn’t make sense since they were supposed to go out with a friend, but she still isn’t perturbed until she descends downstairs from her bedroom to find the rest of the house dark. All the cars are still in the driveway. The smells had plainly come from the neighbor’s barbecue and she now frantically runs back to the pool, relieved to find no body floating at the bottom. But where is he?”
“Forster’s frustration derives from the fact that he’s still diving through space, but the place he’s diving through also enables him to hover so that he can hear his poor wife’s screams, though he’s unable to do anything to help her. There had been times he’d dreamt of escaping into another life, of running off with Zoe, the recently divorced daughter of his friend Irv, a fetching young French scholar whose almost unfathomable sexuality was hidden behind her wire-rimmed glasses. She peered at him like an owl and yet he’d felt what another Forster by the name of E.M. called ‘the aristocracy of the heart.’ He’d fantasized about calling her on her cell and telling her he had two seats on one of the all-business-class airlines. They’d zoom off to Paris for the weekend. He knew just the hotel for their tryst. The Hotel Luxembourg du Parc, right opposite the Luxembourg Gardens and the Musee du Luxembourg.”
“Yes, Anne . . . that was the wife’s name. Anne was like a flower that had lost its bloom. It was amazing that she’d ever been a vibrant young woman who tussled with him wantonly in his graduate student digs. But now his heart went out to her. She deserved better than this. He was in flight alright, but not out of the usual desire to escape. And now that he was in free fall, he found himself filled with a caring for Anne that he hadn’t experienced in years. Even though she was no longer the young woman he once loved, he loved her.”
“Heavens to Betsy, that’s a great beginning,” Andrew said. He’d ordered a whiskey without ice, which he swished around in the bottom of his glass. “I like the two different stories which are marching on and mirroring each other. I like the leitmotifs and of course you can’t help wondering what’s going to happen, if world one and world number two are going to collide. Right now they’re like parallel universes or the different dimensions of string theory.”
“Do you want me to read on?”
“Okay, here goes.”
“I decided I would take a little swim myself. I was baking in the sun, and unless I got into the water soon, I wouldn’t be able to read anymore. My wife, Molly, was working in the garden round back and I could actually see her red hat, her very professional tool belt, and the rubbers she always wore in the garden through the hedges. It was greatly reassuring to have her there and as I threw my towel off and walked to the deep end, I was hoping she would see me diving in the nude, as she’d done in the past. I’m well past my prime with a nice front porch to go with it, but there’s always an element of surprise in coming upon someone skinny dipping, even someone you know well. She could be very critical about my appearance, but she seemed to appreciate me when I was swimming. She’d make flirtatious, sometimes even lascivious comments about how big my penis was, particularly since she had a perfect excuse for not doing anything about it, to the extent that she was busy at work in the bush, as I used to joke.”
I got up. I’d had to piss from the moment I walked into the bar where we always met. The meetings always took place in the empty second floor area, which I’d supposed was used for private functions, though the piled-up chairs were covered with dust and I had a hunch it’d been a long time since the place had been used for anything but late-night couplings. In specific I’d imagined a drunken girl sitting in one of the chairs and administering to some barfly whose pants hung around his ankles.
“Excuse me. I have to take a wicked piss, but I will be right back.” I went into the toilet and began to pee, but there was plainly something wrong. I just couldn’t stop. I’d never peed so much in all my life. Then, as I flushed the toilet, I found myself being drawn by the downward swirl of the draining water. Even though it was impossible it was as if my soul or some incorporeal part of my self were leaping out of me, and dropping like the pants of the guy who I’d imagined getting blown. I was totally free to dive into the toilet, disappearing down the drain with my urine. Unless I could find someway to rejoin my body after my little swim, I was going to be out of luck when it came to finishing reading my selection. I couldn’t remember any time when one of our group simply disappeared during a session, and there’d been some people who’d received some pretty hard drubbings.
Fortunately this was one case where the toilet bilged me right back up like a vending machine rejecting a piece of currency. I was like a person who’d done a back flip. I simply wiped my face, shook myself off, zipped up my fly and walked right back out to continue with my story.
“The fact was I was kind of jealous of Forster. At least he was going somewhere. For years I’d complained about all the stress in my life. How people always wanted things from me, how it was one thing after another, with friends, aging parents who’d become a burden, and business partners who never used common sense. It seemed like an uphill battle. But now the friends were gone and the parents dead. I’d cashed in on all my partnerships and made a pretty penny in the process. Though I wasn’t rich, I would never have to worry about money again. Yet now I was lonely. I didn’t know what to do about myself. My default mode had always been writing. I could write about it, but it would take a rather large stretch of the imagination to turn nothing into something after working so hard to get rid of all my burdens.”
“ ‘Ted, there’s someone for you on the phone,’ my wife called out. She’d obviously heard the phone ringing and had run back into the house to get it.”
“ ‘Can you get the number and I’ll call back?’ ”
“ ‘It sounds important. He has an English accent.’ ”
“Ugh. I may have been bored, but I was also comfortable in my little cocoon. I apologized for keeping the gentleman, who identified himself as Ames, waiting and then asked ‘What can I do for you?’ ”
“ ‘Well, er, uh. . . .’ He was stammering and I could tell it wasn’t from fear, but because he had one of those speech defects. He couldn’t tolerate his aggressive feelings and had turned his aggression against himself, suffering from a kind of psychosomatic form of autoimmune disease. I usually don’t pop out with such vicissitudes, but I found myself suddenly inundated with a lifetime of pop psychology. It was all coming back to me, the Oedipal triangle, castration anxiety. If there had been some sort of car wash place which did brains in the vicinity, I would have gone to have my brains washed.”
“ ‘Well, calm down, Mr. Ames, and let’s start from the beginning. You can’t take a man’s money or his woman. If it’s not about either of these things then I think we can both relax.’ ”
“ ‘No, it’s about your story Venus Bound. We’d like to run it, if it’s still available.’ ”
“For the moment I didn’t know what he was talking about. I didn’t remember any story called Venus Bound and I was wondering if perhaps Mr. Ames was bringing good news to the wrong person, since I’m not a writer of science fiction or anything else, but the mind is a funny place and I didn’t want to say anything until I’d heard him out. I tried to behave as coyly as possible, telling him I wrote quite a few stories and asking if he could perhaps iterate the plot for me so that there was no confusion. I even went so far as to mention the sequel to Venus Bound.”
“ ‘Well, it’s that really simple and charming one about the fellow sitting by the pool at his summer cottage and diving down and never returning. His wife looks for him everywhere. What we loved is the ambiguity. You think at first that he’s hit his head on the bottom and simply died, but then it becomes apparent that he’s mysteriously entered another dimension which overlooks the reality he’s just come from. That’s both the beauty and the tension of the story since he’s totally aware of the wife who’s running around looking for him, like a rat in a cage. She will never find him since he’s nowhere to be found — in her world at least.’ ”
“I wanted my character to tell Ames that he couldn’t have received the story in question since I was still in the process of writing it for you guys. But I was stopped in my tracks by the fact that he wasn’t the writer, I was, and this in turn posed a whole new set of problems about the narrator, Forster, and me.”
To Be Continued
Francis Levy is a Wainscott resident and the author of the comic novels “Erotomania: A Romance” and “Seven Days in Rio.” He blogs at TheScreamingPope.com and on The Huffington Post. His “Guestwords” and short stories have previously appeared in The Star.