Maude Larke has returned to writing after years in universities, analyzing others’ work, and to classical music as an ardent amateur. She has been published in Bird’s Eye reView, the Syracuse Cultural Workers’ Women Artists Datebook, Naugatuck River Review, Oberon, Doorknobs and Bodypaint, the Society of Southwestern Authors, Flowers & Vortexes, and The Story Teller.
The following work is copyright © 2010. All rights reserved. No distribution or reprinting in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
It Only Hurts When They Play Love Songs
Krista stepped out the door of the quaint old tavern in which she had rented her usual room and strolled through the lanes of old Halifax on her way to the beach for her daily wanderings along the shore. She glanced inland at the rolling hills which farther north would become the great heaving mountains of Cape Breton. “My cocoon . . . ” she thought with a sigh.
That was what Meg had called it while Krista was packing, just before walking out. “That’s it, go ahead, crawl back into your cocoon!” she had growled when she had heard where Krista was going. “Go and hide again!”
Krista had been angry when she had heard that comment, but it was the anger of someone who had heard a truth that she did not want to hear. She still felt the anger on the edge of her mind when she thought of that last scene with her latest lover. She had ignored the comment while it was being made, but “Fine, so let me hide!” was the belligerent answer that her thoughts had been spitting out since.
The hiding had indeed become more frequent lately. Meg was Krista’s umpteenth try at establishing a real relationship, and it was very quickly going the way of all the others. It was the same letdown, they were the same arguments, Meg was the same female as the last ones. “Why do they all have to turn out to be so . . . unsupportive?” Krista had been thinking as she made her travel arrangements. “Why do they always seem so understanding – until they move in, and I really get to know them?”
It was even worse this time around, because Krista’s newest breakup was coinciding with the contract deadline for the material for her next album which, as always, she was procrastinating on. She had not a single song ready. Her only convenience now was that her two main causes for leaving were coming up at the same time; she could combine two disappearances in one. The fact that she would have twice as much trouble to go back to was something that she was forcibly blocking from her mind.
She was kicking up the Nova Scotia sands behind her, wandering aimlessly with the spray of the waves moistening her dark curls and waiting for the recording company to sue her and Meg to move out.
She walked slowly, at leisure. The day was bright, showing off the greenness of the hills in contrast to the pale shore. When her calves and shins grew tired from the shifting sand, she veered away from the waves and walked up the nearest grassy knoll. There she sat down, tucked her knees under her chin, and began staring at a dark speck walking on that part of the beach that she had come from. The speck was following Krista’s footprints, and became more decidedly human as it came nearer.
It was definitely a female; the look of the face was quite soft. She had fine, red-gold hair showing from under a dark cap. She was wearing a dark jacket against the sea wind, and jeans and sneakers. Krista noticed that her slow walk was almost reverent.
She was turning her head slowly, as if to drink in the whole circle of land- and seascape around her. As she came closer, her eyes rested on Krista, and she suddenly stopped. Krista was surprised by the look in those blue eyes – as if the world were all a mystic wonder, and this beholder was enjoying that wonder. Krista thought fleetingly that this was an odd look for a person of that age.
The stranger walked steadily up the sloping ground of the knoll on which Krista was seated. She seemed to be amazed at the sight of another human; her eyes never left Krista, and she could swear they did not blink once as she approached.
“I nearly didn’t see you sitting there, you were so still and ready to vanish at any moment,” said the girl as soon as she was close. She spoke with a curiously modulated voice. “You look like you are waiting for the gulls to carry you away, like the Foolish Turtle.” Then she sat down near Krista, totally at ease with herself and not seeming to care that Krista was not responding.
“Oh, I love it here! I never remember having felt so free. Are you a native?”
Krista responded with a short, reluctant “no”.
“Ah, you’re a traveler like me, a fellow pilgrim! Do you come here often?” she continued.
“Yes,” Krista answered, thinking of her regular returns, and inwardly scoffing at the grandiloquent word “pilgrim”.
“What was the longest you stayed?”
“And after that five months, did Nova Scotia lose its wonder for you?”
“Wonder, eh?” Krista thought, and responded, “no,” with a short huff of a laugh.
“I want to stay here for a while, but I’m afraid of destroying its aura. If I could find work here . . . perhaps one of the taverns needs a maid; but the mistress of it would probably make me dress in a frock and be jovial to the mariners, and that’s not at all like me. Being jovial by request, I mean. Jove is in my nature, but not when summoned. I could be a tavern singer, though – though I’ve never done it before. I’ve sung in many choral groups and madrigal groups, and I had a friend who wrote songs which I sang with her, but none of these is like tavern singing. But I suppose I’ll make my way somehow,” she ended airily.
“Quite the vagabond, aren’t you?” commented Krista, responding to the girl in spite of herself.
“Oh, yes, I have quicksilver in my veins. I’ve roamed and lingered in all kinds of places before wandering onto this peninsula, where the summer is so gentle.”
As the young woman continued rhapsodically recounting the beauties of Nova Scotia, Krista realized that the other’s habit of declaiming rather than talking was chronic.
Krista had not been at all inclined to search for company, especially for company in the form of a tenacious and loquacious companion such as this one appeared to be, so she decided to end the interview by standing and walking back to the town. There was no sense in continuing along the shore; its only attraction to her had been its solitude.
Solitude was what she was certainly denied that evening; the unusual girl rose with her and walked back beside her, still going on in the same strain.
“I can imagine the Vikings coming over the seas to found Vinland and landing in this pleasing, wild spot. How they found it in them to leave it behind, I cannot dream to fathom.” She turned to Krista. “Can’t you just hear the grinding hulls and growling tongues as they landed?”
Just then the two of them came up to a young spaniel playing with a rag, and the younger woman became as absorbed in the lively animal as she had been in spouting her romanticist wanderings. She moved closer and crouched near the dog to smile and watch; Krista took this chance to get away.
As she walked briskly back to the safety of the tavern, Krista thought, “Of all my luck, to get a flighty weirdo like that latching onto me! Unbelievable, a person holding forth in such nonsensical sentimentalist fashion! … ‘Holding forth’! . . . huh! I’ve listened to her too much already.” And she went back to her room to stare at her unfinished song lyrics.
For a week Krista stayed in her room to avoid the girl. She spent the time writing and ripping up, pacing or sprawling on the bed, feeling that she was sliding through the groove of one of her records and waiting for the fine spiral to move inward toward the end, oh so slowly. In her mind she argued with Meg and her manager.
But on one especially hot day her tavern room became too stuffy to bear and she was forced out onto the sandy shore again. The girl caught up with her before she had gone more than a short way.
“I’ve been hoping to see you,” she said, her blue eyes as alive and intent as before. “I’ve been wanting to give you this.”
It was a poem, and Krista could see that it contained the same sort of fantasist drivel that the girl had been saying the last time that they had met.
where horizontals meet
the bird’s flight
a solitary vertical . . .
Krista decided to get the stranger out of her hair; if she was rude about it, she was rude.
“I can’t take this,” she replied, shoving the sheet back to the girl. “If my lover found something from another woman with my things she’d throw a screaming jealous fit.”
Krista had hoped that the allusion to a female lover would shock her, but she only seemed more intent and fascinated than before. “What a misfortune to be united with someone who possesses so much self-love,” she responded.
The reference to “misfortune” brought Krista’s irritation to high pitch. “What the hell would you know about my ‘misfortunes’?”
Krista decided to unload her experiences on the girl with all the unpleasant detail that she could dredge up. She began venting all the inner grievances of the past years, walking forward briskly as she did so. She started with the worst incidents, trying to shock, but soon she found herself recounting the series of disastrous affairs with disappointment and defensiveness in her hard voice. All the things that she had brooded about during this stay found their way to the surface. She forgot her wish to shock in a newfound need to explain, as much to herself as to this stranger. She realized, as she described the different relationships, that she was contradicting herself, destroying the image of self-love that she had created in her comment about jealousy. But she could not stop. When she did finally come to the end, the younger woman, who had listened attentively and kept pace with her, commented, “All the held-in frustrations; you’ve thrown them out in armfuls.”
Despite her bitterness, Krista ended her litany on a musing and melancholy note. “Now that I really look at them all together, I see that none of them have anything in common with each other.”
“They had you in common,” was the reply, and Krista was unpleasantly surprised by the sad tone of the statement. She turned to the girl and was appalled to find compassion in the blue eyes.
“What’s that ridiculous look for?” she snapped.
“Because I’m worried about you,” came the sober reply. “Will you ever let yourself live?”
The unexpected question stopped Krista in her tracks. What she had meant as explanation had seemingly been taken for something else. She glared at the girl for a few seconds, then turned abruptly and headed back to town, nearly stumbling in the driftwood. The girl made no attempt to follow.
By the time Krista reached the tavern she had cooled enough to realize that this anger was the same as that she had felt toward Meg.
The next day Krista went out on the beach and sat on the same knoll that she had sat on when she had met the young blond.
Before too long she saw the dark figure of her recent acquaintance walking along the shore. As she drew near she sighted the older woman and stopped in the sand, hesitancy in her manner. Krista unclasped her knees, looking steadily at the girl, and stretched her legs, crossing her feet and leaning back on her hands. The younger one walked up the slope to her.
“I’m surprised to see you here.”
“I had to find out what you meant yesterday.”
The girl sat down with a sigh. “I have spent this time enchanted by our interchange’s anonymity, and anonymity always brings the illusion of distance. Yesterday I intruded a bit, not on the anonymity, but on the distance, which action in itself cannot but affect the equilibrium of our incognito.”
Krista interposed. “Please spare me your flights of fancy. I’m afraid I’m not the type to appreciate them. Just tell me what you were thinking. Why should you be worried about me?”
“Because in your tirade you showed me that you’re terribly busy trying to dig out of life what it’s not giving. It won’t bend for you, but you won’t admit to that and just accept from life what favorable things it does give.”
“But if it doesn’t give me what I want . . .”
“It may be because you’re wanting the wrong things.”
“All I asked for from my lovers was support.”
“All you asked for was support, but what you wanted was submission. That was plain in what you said yesterday. Which means you strangled any opportunities for sharing, because there is no sharing between a superior and an inferior, and that is what submission implies.”
“Ah, you rhapsodize on Love as well as on Beauty. So that’s why I came up here, because I’m not getting my submission?”
“I think you want much from life, but you want it on your own terms. And life usually refuses to blossom by our terms. You thought that you could impose them at least on your lovers, if not on those in your professional life or on life itself. You’re frustrated because you feel you’re at an impasse, and at an impasse because you feel frustrated. You’re gyring downward, but you need more sky.”
“‘More sky’, forsooth,” Krista replied sarcastically.
The young woman seemed not to hear her. “And apparently, from what you just said, when you feel you haven’t dug enough out, you come up here. You run away. You go off in the proverbial huff. You don’t like the game so you cease to play. You can’t have what you want, so you try to want nothing. But limbo does not match your energy and Nova Scotia is a false paradise for your search. You can’t succeed in burying your want.”
Krista fidgeted. She felt that this was coming too close to the truth.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” Beth continued. “What you came up here for? To escape? to camouflage? to lick wounds all while rubbing sea salt into them?”
Krista evaded the question.
“What did you come here for?”
The girl hesitated, then said, “Inspiration.” She dropped her head for an instant. “And, I guess, there goeth the anonymity as well. I’m Beth O’Finn.”
Krista paused for a moment. ‘Oh, yes, the new Wunderkind poet. I see it now. I haven’t read anything by you, I’d heard too much beforehand – how effortless and glowing your verse appears, the romanticism that everyone finds refreshing after the tortured morbidity of the confessional poets . . . I felt too negative about it.” She paused again. “I was jealous. I’m Krista Leonard.”
“Oh. The singer-songwriter? Jealous because you wanted your song lyrics to be as effortless and glowing as that?”
“Something like that.” Krista hesitated, then said ruefully, “That’s another reason for ‘escape’, you know – when my lyrics don’t come out as quickly or as well as I want them to, I walk away from them.”
Krista got up, and Beth followed her. They both descended the knoll and, turning away from the town, meandered slowly along the beach.
“I don’t see how one can walk away from one’s self-expression. But, of course, I can’t fathom the need to dig, either. My pearls wash onto the beach and I pick them up. I only polish them a bit. There is no digging.”
“You’re apparently more at ease than I am with self-expression. And with sharing.”
A sudden thought came to Krista.
“Just who do you share all this with?”
“Everyone. With you, for example, when I gave you that poem.”
“Yes, in general, but in particular?”
“With whoever rises from the sea of the future following the path of the pearls,” Beth responded, after a pause.
“Like Botticelli’s Venus.”
“Well, Botticelli’s Mars.”
Krista gave a short nod.
“You have no little nest, no cocoon, then.”
“Neither do you. And it’s really a cage, not a cocoon, that you weave. You dig out to create a rampart.”
Krista did not reply. She remained deep in thought as she turned slowly and began to walk back toward the town. Beth followed her movement.
“But all this sea and sky . . . and ‘bird’s flight’ . . . isn’t a rampart,” Krista said, remembering Beth’s poem.
“It can’t be. It’s just a point of rest, as for the migrating birds. As it would have been for the Vikings. So why grind your keel into this beach?”
Krista shrugged. “I came up here on vacation when I was ten. It was fun.”
As they neared the town the spaniel made a noisy appearance, galloping along the sand. Beth stopped to bend down and ruffle the head of her occasional playmate; Krista stood by and waited.
They continued their walk into the lane, and Krista broke the silence. “Actually, all those girls did have something in common. They all seemed so . . . pliable, at first.” Beth looked up at her, and she added, “Something to dig into.”
“In a misguided attempt to stop being a solitary vertical?”
“That was me?”
Beth quoted the continuation of the poem.
a solitary vertical
straining to lift earth
to my perpendicular
when I could
expand my spine
to measure life
and reach forward to you . . .
Krista let out a short, sharp hiss. There was surprise, confusion, awe and admiration in it.
“You figure out such big things so quickly! This is all a lot for me to swallow.”
“Whole earthworks’ worth. But try to take it in small mouthfuls.”
They came to the door of Krista’s tavern. She motioned Beth in ahead of her.