All entries for Tuesday 12 April 2005
April 12, 2005
Ok, a hefty post for you all. This is the first draft of my portfolio. I would really appreciate feedback – be as harsh/nit-picky as you feel necessary!
Bound in Memory (Fade to Sunset)
From a birds-eye-view Central Park was deserted, but for the odd jogger trailing down East Drive. The grass was streaked with long shadows cast by the rising sun, emerging from the Manhattan skyline. The grass was an emerald shade, deepened by the dew, and the trees were lush and waxy, glinting in the morning haze. As the sun gradually chased the lingering shadows into their deserted hideaways, it shed some light over a lonesome figure perched on the Bethesda Fountain edge, looking out over the boating lake.
He didn’t know what time it was, but Aran guessed that it would be about 6:30am as the pinky rays of the chilly dawn were starting to fade. He looked directly at the sun momentarily and observed how like a grapefruit it looked this morning. The thought brought a citrus taste to the tip of his tongue and he winced slightly as his glands omitted a spurt of acid. His stomach gurgled, he was hungry.
Aran had come here every night for the past week to bathe beneath the pasty-white moon and relieve the claustrophobic state in which the daily crowds left him. The park was his sanctuary and during the night it seemed to expand infinitely allowing him to breathe and escape the clustered box of his mind, which was driven mad by the pollution, the commercials, and the crazy people on the subway. Solitude suited Aran. He had always been most comfortable alone, outside, unrestricted by any worldly imposition on his thoughts. He was not a man of intellectual conversation or social revelry. He preferred to sit alone under a friendly tree, or beside a calming fountain, and stare hard into space, to contemplate nothingness and silence, to look within himself.
Tonight he had found more within himself than ever before. Aran had spent the night tracing Ria’s face in the stars, creating constellations with her name and sending longing thoughts to her on the wisps of cloud that curled across the sky every hour or so. She was still woven through him in every way: her smell lingered on the nape of his neck, her heart beat inside his stomach, her laughter echoed in his ear, her music reverberated through his bones. The week that had passed had lasted an eternity and the months that lay ahead seemed to stretch past the horizon and into a painful oblivion, but it was not solely Ria’s absence that was causing this. He was not feeling right within himself. The city had awakened something new inside of him which he did not understand, could not put his finger on. It was something that had lain dormant in him his whole life, he was sure of that, but it was still a mystery as to what exactly was finally emerging in him, sparked by the heightened atmosphere of New York City.
Aran closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. He held it for as long as he could, exhaled, and smiled in satisfaction. The park’s atmosphere in the morning always lifted his spirits. People would begin to venture through its many street entrances, and it would become increasingly alive throughout the day – talking, dancing, creating art, making love; the park brought people together. The humanity of the place brought some colour to his cheeks and the pale tone of his face brightened as he got up slowly and stretched, taking his last look at the lake. He turned to climb the steps and reached into his pocket for his battered earphones, found his favourite track on the tape that Ria had made for him, and her passionate strumming burst forth into his ears. The flamenco rhythms, subtle chords, and ripeness of her soft voice uplifted him. With a heart full of determined love Aran bought a pretzel and turned onto 72nd Street to begin the day’s search for a job.
New York is truly alive. In every nook and cranny of the city something is happening. People scurry about their daily routines in the metropolitan city like ants; sightseeing, shining shoes, presenting court cases, battling over shares in Wall St, , babysitting, drug-dealing, eating, playing music, reading the NY Times latest bestseller over a Starbucks Latte. It never stops to catch its breath and never falters in emitting life-filled electricity.
Central Park is a good example of New York’s humanitarian cultural life. I visited the park on a lazy summer afternoon, expecting to have a quiet stroll, an oversized pretzel and a refreshing nap on a patch of grass, which would be chosen at random when my legs simply gave in beneath me. I met a friend and was immediately taken by the hand and led to see the disco roller-bladers. The image in my mind was of trendy young people kitted out in skimpy outfits, bopping along to whatever was popular in the charts and showing off their blading stunts. However, we arrived at a sectioned off piece of road with reggae pumping out of the make-shift DJ booth and the most unthinkable combination of people skating around. A kid, maybe five years old, swung past me as I leant on the barrier to watch and was followed by his grandmother – a small, grey woman wearing cycling shorts, gliding round the circuit backwards whist keeping one eye trained on the demon toddler.
My favourite characters were two Rastafarians, about 30-odd, who I guessed were twin brothers by their matching outfits, and who had obviously been born on skates. They bopped up and down as they skated round in tandem, perfectly in time with one another and the music, which flowed through their veins more naturally than their own blood.
I couldn’t drag myself away from the skaters because it was so wonderful to see so many different people – business men, the elderly, the young, black people, Chinese people, Dutch people – all moving in time to the same rhythm, happy and content with who they were and the people that surrounded them.
Later, we came across a fountain and by chance there was a tango session happening. Couples circled the fountain in rapturous movements while a man played the accordion under a beam of sunlight, eyes closed, absorbing the heat. The scene made me want to fall in love. I wanted a strong, dark man – expert in tango – to take my hand, reel my into his firm grasp and lead me into each spontaneous step, ignited by the trills in the music. The fantasy stayed with me as I moved on and sat by the boating lake for hours afterwards, gradually watching the sun sink and the sky fade to blue-grey as the dusk settled.
Ria sat with her guitar on her lap, her hand draped over its body, fingers caressing the strings in fluid strums, nails catching strings to pluck notes that pierced the languid chords like arrows. The sand had moulded to her form and spiralled out from beneath her, spreading for miles East and West, sloping into the calm sea before her. Ria had her eyes closed, completely absorbed in the rhythm of the waves that broke religiously over the randomly strewn shells. Her hand strummed up and down with the rocking movement of the waves and her chords harmonised with the hum that could be heard from a speedboat in the distance.
The sun was setting and she was finishing her sequence of songs in dedication to Aran. She decided to end with his favourite one, a song she had written about a harpist who would sit and play on the cliffs by the sea that had carried her lover from her, eventually dying of a broken heart. The ghostly chords and haunting lyrics were spell-binding. In her head she found the musical memory and opened her eyes to bid the sky good night and send her love-infused notes with the dissolving sun to Aran as she sang:
She sits upon the cliff top high,
Tears streaming, breast releasing heavy sighs
As she watches him depart his homeland,
Watches as he blows kisses with his hand.
He who said he would return,
His promises to ashes burn,
And she who’d play him daily odes
Dies softly in a sea of woes.
Ten years gone by and yet she still
Plays daily, no hapless doubt rots her iron will:
He will return, and I’ll be married-
To him, wind-bound, let my music carry.
He who said he would return,
His promises to ashes burn,
And she who’d play him daily odes
Dies softly in a sea of woes.
She grows old and the strings grow thin,
The harp one day with sudden pain gives in-
It cannot play loves hopeless tune no more
And knowing love is lost, she dies upon the shore.
He who said he would return,
His promises to ashes burn,
And she who’d play him daily odes
Dies softly in a sea of woes.
Aran’s last words to her had been promises of his return, promises of money, marriage and happiness. It was these promises that she remembered when she played this song, hoping with all her heart that the same fate would not befall her. Soon, she could no longer remember playing anything else. It became a daily routine and she slowly became the harpist of her song, devoutly playing to her absent lover each day. As days turned to months she gave up her music apprenticeship with the gypsy Almago, and insisted on spending her days on the beach playing her song, looking out across the ocean, waiting for news of her lover.
Aran was becoming tired of the Spanish community in New York. There was too much resentment and homesickness in their hearts. They would spend all day working hard in a low-wage job and would come home with a mouthful of hellish curses for their employers. For Aran, this was very frustrating to hear. He had spent months trying to find work and had watched each of his Spanish peers get lucky, without any hope of an income himself. He had had enough of applying to pizza joints and Spanish restaurants, he had had enough of shining shoes on the corner of the New York Library in order to buy food and pay rent. He wasn’t going to make a penny this way. He decided to bite the bullet, leave his adopted Spanish community and go out to find work on his own in a more respectable business.
He got a decent shave, cut his hair, and bought a suit with the last of his savings. He worked hard on perfecting his American accent and loosing his Spanish lilt. He built up two weeks worth of courage and walked into the first professional business he came across on his morning walk. It happened to be a printing business, and Aran wasted no time in politely demanding work. Jack, the owner, looked up from his desk calmly, not startled by Aran’s desperately direct approach in the least. His grey eyes bore into Aran and pierced his spirit. Jack felt overwhelmed by the young man’s soul; it washed over him tsunami-like and Jack felt a connection fuse between them, a connection he had never experienced before. He recovered himself and blinked away a tear that had accumulated in his left eye. He stood up, smiled, and offered his hand to Aran who took it and shook.
Ten years later, Aran and Jack had the third most successful printing business in New York. The two men had agreed upon a partnership the very first week after Aran had walked through the door. Within a year the hectic life of growing and maintaining a business had consumed Aran’s thoughts and Ria was a distant memory that would haunt his dreams on occasion. After three years Ria was no more than a ghost that would appear momentarily when Aran spoke of Spain.
At five years Aran and Jack had finally given in to what had always been there and declared their love for one another. Jack’s grey eyes had been entranced by Aran from the first moment and Aran had fallen in love with his business partner gradually, easing himself into the idea of homosexuality, superficially questioning what his heart already knew – he was gay, but did Jack feel the same way? He did.
Years later, they would fondly reminisce about the day that they had finally found each other. It had been raining and the city was damp and grey, filled with an air of expectancy as everyone waited for the sun to appear from behind the retreating clouds. Jack was at his flat on Eighth Street looking over some papers, his eyes flitting to a picture of Aran and himself shaking hands at the opening of their new office every few moments. He shuddered with desire every time he glanced at the dark features of his secret love. The telephone rang. He let it ring. The answering machine beeped. Unexpectedly, it was Aran’s voice that followed the beep and Jack leapt for the phone. Meet me at the Bethesda Fountain in twenty minutes, I need to talk to you, I don’t understand what is happening but I will know when you arrive. Jack didn’t hesitate; he was there twenty minutes later, heart pounding with anticipation. Adrenaline pulsed through his hot blood as he ran down the deserted steps towards the fountain. He could see Aran standing alone by the waters edge, looking out over the boating lake.
Jack paused behind Aran for a few seconds before putting his hand gently on his friend’s shoulder and asking him tentatively what had happened. There was an awkward silence in which words flew inches above the two men’s heads, unable to be tied down in any cohesive order. Aran took a deep breath to ease his nerves and relieve the clamp around his lungs. The tension was creamy thick. Aran parted his lips and the cascade of words fell into place:
“You Jack. You are what has happened. You are what is happening to me.” He turned to face Jack as he said this, revealing a tear-stained face, the salty trails glinting in the emerging sun. Jack was stunned. He did not know what to say.
“What do you mean?” he managed after looking into Aran’s eyes for some time. He knew what was coming and he didn’t know how he would express his happiness when it came. Aran looked at him with beautiful, sad eyes. His pain was spread across his face as clear and honest as a children’s picture book.
“You fill me with love. Every time I look at you, hear your voice, remember your face, my heart skips a beat and feels ready to explode. You are underneath my skin, I breath you, drink you, dream of us becoming one. I don’t know what to do. I just had to tell you. I just had –” and Jack could not help but kiss him. Both men were shocked and their bodies were stiff at first, but soon they began to relax; their lips comfortably locked into a fluidly passionate kiss, hands touched cheeks, arms interwove and drew each other closer. They lasted like that for hours, like two entangled sea urchins unable to prise their clinging claws apart.
There were two things that helped me understand homosexual relationships: the film ‘Angels in America’, and visiting the place where it was set – New York City. I have never had anything against same-sex relationships, but being a heterosexual I had never been able to understand the attraction. That was until I saw ‘Angels in America’. The film depicted the painful process of dealing with aids for both parties of a gay couple, one partner with and one without the disease. It did so with such emotional sensitivity and beauty, that I found myself completely convinced of the love between the two men.
New York’s gay area, West Village, was a wonderful place to me. I was staying a street away from where it began and on my first night wandered into it without realising. I was window shopping absentmindedly and suddenly realised that I had been glancing over a condom display for the past thirty seconds or so. I snapped out of my daze and found myself looking into the polished window of a porn shop: magazines, dildos, condoms, blow up dolls, lubricants, furry handcuffs – the lot. In England, you’d expect blacked out windows, a mysterious black door (closed) and a large, shameful sign simply saying XXX over the shop front. In New York, there was no shame in selling and buying sexy products – you checked out the display, waltzed in, had a chat to Bobby-Zach behind the counter, bought your Huge Fat Cocks magazine and some extra large Durex, and walked out whistling the Thunderbirds theme tune. Easy as pie.
After my porn-shop epiphany, I popped into a Mini-market to get some gum and shampoo. I asked the guy behind the counter if he stocked the brand I like, too lazy to go and search for it myself. Before he could answer, a gorgeous creature emerged from behind me and began to touch my hair, suggesting brands of shampoo that would best suit it as he did so. I looked at him in awe. He had long, fine black hair and a gentle face. He was beautiful. I listened intently and bought some Garnier Fructis on his advice.
I went back out onto the busy street to continue my walk and found myself alone in a stream of gay couples. It was like being carried on a river of homosexual energy; I had never been amongst so many gay partners and, for some reason, it was mesmerising.
A few blocks after the Mini-market I spotted my “advisor” again. This time he was with another man. They held each other in a tight embrace underneath an aged tree, withdrawing slightly every now and then to peck each others lips and smile. His partner clutched his silky hair. They had obviously just met up, maybe after some time apart, and the love seeped out of their pores, radiant in the glow of a nearby street lamp.
Ria had grown tired of being lonely. Every day for five years she had played her song to Aran on the same spot of the beach. Every day the lyrics of her sad song would confirm to her the fateful inevitability which she had know since the day she had composed it. Aran was not coming back. His promises to ashes burn; her own prediction dug a hole in her heart, deeper and deeper with each repetition, and when the five year anniversary arrived Ria had had enough. Guitar in hand, she began to climb past the beach and onto the rocky cliffs.
Dusk was descending when she arrived at the highest cliff-point above the ocean. She sat on the trembling lip of the precipice and tuned her guitar to the melancholy wail of the salty breeze. The first chord she strummed shook the rock around her and she sang her song for the last time. The sea swelled and began to dance in whirling pools of white froth, crashing against the cliff in time to the song, eroding the rock, lamenting Ria’s unattained love. Upon the last vibration of the final chord, Ria’s guitar splintered and shattered into wooden chips that hung, suspended in the air for a moment before rushing towards the impassioned waves below.
Ria stood up. Walked back a few paces, opened her mouth to let loose a cry of agony that made the sky shudder with pity, and ran forth to follow her beloved instrument. Her feet left solid ground and she flew forwards. I’m flying, she thought, I’m flying, and I am as weightless as a soaring eagle! What wonder is this? I feel infused with love, a passion for life- to live! I want to live!
“I want to live!” The words tumbled forth and wrote themselves in the clouds as Ria’s body curved through the air and began its tragic descent. The sea lashed its tentacles, eager to possess the beautiful creature that was slicing the air with regret. Her heart jumped into her mouth, and her eyes were closed in terror. All she could think of was her will to live and, just as she was about to pierce the watery membrane, she made one last plea of salvation to heaven.
On my second day in the city I came across a wall covered in worn pictures of people. It was a 911 message-board, created by people whose loved ones had gone missing during the disaster. There was something very eerie about all of the smiling people who beamed down at you from the photographs, most of whom were now kept alive in spirit with memories and moments captured on film. The most heart-wrenching pictures were the ones depicting a couple on their wedding day, a black circle drawn around the head of the missing bride, or pictures of missing people with their newborn children.
Desperate messages were pinned up with the photographs: “HAVE YOU SEEN MICHAEL? PLEASE CALL 9128880324 WITH ANY INFORMATION” or “Sasha is missing, please help us find her, we miss her. Call 9124453682. God Bless.”
So many broken relationships: lost husbands, dead wives, mothers missed, fathers buried, friends gone, not to mention the hundreds of service men who gave their lives trying to save others. So many people’s hopes for the return of their loved ones dashed against the New York pavement.
Almago was the first thing that she saw as she opened her eyes. The wind was still rushing past her filling her ears with a torrential whooshing sound, her heart was pounding like a ceremonial drum, and she was no longer descending, but ascending towards the dark sky, falling in reverse. She didn’t understand, but the motion exhilarated her and she submitted to the feeling. Almago was wrapped around her like a fierce cloak, and she felt safer than she had ever done before. She looked into his black eyes, noticing for the first time how genuinely devotional they were. It was like he knew everything about her, as if he had sat and conversed with her soul for many hours like old friends. She suddenly felt very light-headed and just before she lost her senses his deep, chapped lips brush hers.
Hours later she awoke in an elaborate tent enveloped in folds of smoke from incense that was burning close-by. She waited, knowing that he was watching her and, sure enough, there was a rustling sound as he emerged from behind a drape.
“Don’t speak,” he said as he put an index finger to her lips.
“But, I must know how. How did you do it?”
“There is no need for you to ask, you already know that words cannot answer that question.”
“I don’t understand –”
“Shhhh….” Their lips met and everything Ria wanted answered was delivered to her in an instant. She realised now that it had always been Almago with his fiery flamenco and infinite patience, Almago who had given her the gift of music, Almago whose heart beat in time to hers, Almago who understood her deepest passions and most intimate rhythms. He sat up suddenly and she started, surprised and curious. He reached into his pocket and withdrew his hand, fingers curled around something in a fist shape. Ria watched intently as he uncurled his hand slowly to reveal two small oyster shells, hinges bound and shells varnished. They were the most beautifully fashioned castanets that Ria had ever laid eyes on.
“I am going to teach you how to dance, Ria. You will be the most beautiful flamenca of our time and with my music you shall fly.” They melted into one another and created a new rhythm with their love-making that was so intricate and unbound by time or structure, that they could not bring it to an end until three months later.
Aran looked out of the window and watched the meringue-like clouds drift past. The mountains would emerge every-now-and-then but Aran liked the comfort of being tucked away in the clouds. Jack had the aisle seat and between them sat a lovely old lady who snoozed for periods of five minutes or so, and would wake suddenly to shower a torrent of stories upon them about her children and grandchildren and great-grand children who she had been to visit in America.
She gave them a box of biscuits as they departed the aeroplane and they kissed her on both cheeks after declining her generous dinner offers. They had to start their journey as soon as possible to reach Aran’s hometown before sundown. They picked up the rental car and wound their way along the scenic country roads. Aran’s memory was terrible but he drove instinctively, as if his body knew better than his mind which direction they should be heading.
The first landmark he recognised was Giorgio’s Bar. He smiled as memories of his friends and the nights they had spent together there came flooding back. He pulled over and told Jack that it would be a good time to eat.
“Shouldn’t we get to your father’s before the sun sets?”
“This is a special place to me Jack. You wanted to see everything about my past, this place is fundamental. Come on, be spontaneous. This was where my friends and I would come to drink for free and talk about our girl fantasies.” Aran let out a chuckle at the memory of such boyish good times.
“What will your father think of me?” Jack surprised himself at thinking out loud. Aran’s laugher died and he spoke nothing more until they entered the bar. Jack had no idea how hard it would be for him to explain this to his father. The older generation did not understand relationships such as theirs.
“Giorgio!” Aran let the tension drop when he saw his old friend and Jack was pulled into a strong embrace by the smiling Giorgio. At least Aran had had time to prepare his friends, thought Jack. They were led to a table near the stage and Giorgio told Aran that they were in for a surprise.
“What did he say?” Jack inquired.
“He says we are in for a surprise. I think there will be a performance tonight. Its about to start. Oh, and don’t be too full on with me – no one understands the depth of our relationship yet, if you know what I mean.” Jack’s heart sank and simultaneously the lights dimmed. A woman walked onto the small stage wearing an exquisite flamenco dress and the bar erupted with enthusiastic applause. The guitarist walked on a short time after her and struck up a tune.
The music was liquid in texture and the way in which the dancer’s body responded was like the moon’s pull on the tide. Her dress flew about her like the wings of a hundred peacocks. The pace quickened and the woman produced castanets in her hands that appeared as if from nowhere. The pearly white shells caught the dim lights and reflected in each man’s pupil as they watched, their eyes drawn to her on the invisible strings of infatuation. Like puppets they sat enthralled. Aran touched his cheek in deep thought and bit his lip as he racked his brains for the memory of where he’d seen this wondrous bird before. And then, could it be? After all these years, how could I have forgotten her face? It is her – and the man? Almago. His face flushed as he felt reality dawn on him for the first time since he’d planned to return. He had made a mistake. His people weren’t ready to accept him as he was. They didn’t need his strange relationship to bring shame upon them. He did not want the shame that he would inevitably feel at their disappointment in him. He wanted them to hold the memories they had of him close to their hearts. Memories of his youth, not this new image of him, of the way he’d been changed and awakened by his city existence.
He got up and took Jack’s hand to leave before Ria’s dance was done. He left Giorgio some money for the drinks and walked out. They got into the car and pulled away in silence.
As she twirled, Ria fancied she saw an apparition. She could have sworn that Aran was sat watching her. She smiled to herself, remembering that a long time ago he had sat in that same place and watched her first guitar performance. It was sweet to think he should be watching her first dance performance now. The music suddenly rose in volume and intensity and she was once again swept up in the moment. The memory of Aran instantaneously fell from her mind and became entangled in the wisps of cigarette smoke that spiralled endlessly throughout the murky bar.