We had only been dating for about six weeks. New to each other and still unfurled in each other’s spheres of friends. It was a house concert—a guitar party of sorts. A chili fest with potluck sides and byob wine. The building had been built just after the last turn of the century, so baseboards were massive and the thin stairs creaked like a grandfather’s knees.
I was a bit apprehensive when we walked in. Even though Peter had been divorced for more than four years, I was the interloper into his old friends’ house and fairly sure I’d be checked out then vetted over next morning’s coffee.
Buttery ambient light lit up the double parlor where the headliners stood and audience sat. But we sat in the kitchen where an arched doorway opened up to the stage, so we could hear the singers and watch their faces uninterrupted by backs of others’ heads. Best seats in the house. First set was a calypso mix of original music accompanied by bongos and harmonized by the songwriter’s daughter. A beautiful aural treat of genetically engineered timbres.
Intermission came between sets and I waited to head upstairs to get to the bathroom. I wanted to hear the start of the second set: an elderly gentleman who was reading from his book of essays. He was shaped not unlike an Idaho russet, pre-baking. All round and puffed in the middle, his hair a tonsure of white that tickled the tops of his ears. Carp-like mouth and reader glasses rested on the tip of his nose. He began:
When I was a child, I knew that I’d aspire to the greatness of Charlemagne, of Rousseau, of Baryshnikov. I was sure that I would need to record my life in ways most others don’t…
I decided that I’d sneak upstairs to the bathroom. I didn’t think I’d be missing much. As I said, it was an old house, and so were the plumbing fixtures. I used the bathroom, then not realizing that the toilet was pretty much directly over the speaker…Childhood, it seems, is an iridescent ocean on which the adult person floats forever…continued to speak.
There was not a sound coming from those in the front and back parlor to whom he spoke…and we who are saturated with the watery essence of our own silence… And then I flushed—a background sound like the bongos had been. I waited for it to stop swooshing to open the door and make my descent. I grabbed the top newel post and stepped down the first step. Its creak caused heads to shoot up.
Oh, how we learn of the thin wafer of our own consciousness, of our own senseless struggles…
I looked down at the overflow audience who sat in the foyer staring up at me with amused eyes. I was eager to get back to the safety of our kitchen seats. I took another step. Which, of course, made a sound like the breakup of ice on the Yukon in May. I froze. Looked down. A couple of people were chuckling at my Lucille Ball dilemma. One woman put her foot out and up, indicating I should just slide down the bannister. An interesting notion.
I put my foot out and up like I was going to do it. Still noiseless. Still holding onto the bannister.
We place ourselves into the Charybdisian maelstroms of our own discontent, into an absurdity of atoms created by…
I took another step. Creeeeak! Froze again. Then something inside me ripped loose. And I began to laugh which went from stifled snort, to guffaw, to belly laugh of hand-masked ruckus. My stomach was clenched so hard it ached the next day. But it was a sweet pain. Such a sweet pain.
…so we tread on, arms against a sea of turmoil, he finished. During the raucous applause, I raced downstairs, taking them two at a time—lest they call for an encore—took my seat back in the kitchen next to Peter, and daintily took another sip of wine.