Three sticks of jasmine incense stood in the brass burner on the short table near his bed. Light was dappled by the leaves of the aspen trees next door, breaking the eastern sunrise into slivers of dust motes. While News was cool with it, today would be a hard day to leave the morning bed.
Downstairs, coffee was on in the kitchen, the strong aroma of a South American hillside translated through the roast beans in a way as clear as the blue glass that waited on the shelf for his morning orange juice.
News lifted his eyes to the doorway, where an open window was cocked and set with a hook and eye latch, and along with the dappled light, the open air was cool and refreshing, and the outdoors mingled with the incense wafting through the room. His eyes roamed from the open window down the wall to the floor, where a rug made of hundreds of votive ribbons in a Bangladesh factory lay expectant of morning footpads.
He would not be News if he did not listen and read the News every day. As News, he was always in the know, always on, always the one his friends knew would have the word on whatever it was they might need concern them on any given morning. Of course, it was not his choice to be called News, in fact, his name wasn’t even News, it was Peter, but he had been News to so many for so long now he might as well forget that Peter had ever been here, let alone, walked the streets with a newspaper beneath his arm. As the New News made his way, into a New Year, at the very least true to his new self, if not to Peter, he let the name stick to him, and could barely be bothered to wash it off, like an acquired layer of lacquer on his body armor.
“News? I have the coffee ready”. That would be Martina Louise, his companion of the past two years, a strawberryblonde brunette, who had her fair share of hard chances herself before they met. And that was for another tale. In this early morning light of aspen and jasmine, News was grateful he had her there, there had been so many years without her.
Now she was calling him for coffee. He pulled aside his blanket, and grabbed for his robe which lie beside the bed on the floor. Shaking the dust from his head, he wrapped the robe close and began walking toward the door leading downstairs, and then the parrot went off.
“Motorbay! Motorbaby! Yea Yea Yea Yea!” screamed the parrot. News resented the time he had taught the parrot the words to his least favorite of an old friend’s original compositions, but at the time, it had been fun. Years of “Motorbaby!” had led to endless explanations to guests, what the hell was that damn bird squawking about?
This morning, the bird was just squawking to squawk, and soon shut up when Martina had fed him chunks of canteloupe in a ceramic bowl. The bird then went about his day, generally perching on his hat rack (it had once been a hat rack, but now it was Comte De Flotte’s personal grooming and all purpose reconnaissance station)- and since a day when De Flotte was quiet was always a blessed one, this one would be about the same.
News sat at the table now, running fingers through his uncombed hair. He could do with a shave but decided against it. The sound of eggshells cracking against the side of a hot skillet, and the smell of the eggs and of fresh bacon frying, snapped him out of it. He took a sip of the coffee Martina had called him for, and siad an inner prayer of thanks. All was well. Take stock of the situation.
They had had a good year. Citations and returns had been numerous, and consultant fees and lecture honorariums collected. Articles published, and interviews granted. At times, he was lonely for the days when a bottle of wine was just a bottle of wine, and a moment with a reporter was a moment of intention. Now, all there was were press clippings, crumbled note pages, littered stock tickers. Everyday the red tape grew higher and higher around subjects and stories, until a wall of correcting tape could not break down the wiry bonds of nonsense and creation. He was glad for that!
Martina now moved the eggs and bacon onto a large serving platter, and they picked their way through them until a glass of orange juice interposed itself like a comma upon the morning repast. When the meal was done, they had toasted each other for their many graces, they removed each other from sight and News went for a walk in the fresh wet dew, taking with him Gorby the dog.
Gorby was bright but not always cooperative. If he had the mind to lie in a puddle, that he would do no matter what the cost in spattered clothing. He would race after squirrels in an eternally losing struggle. He would snap at blackbirds who approached him too closely while roped to a sidewalk café table or chair. He was a good dog. Only his master could fathom his strange and devious side.
They walked across the field across the street from the little house on the corner he’d lived in for forty five years. They entered a small grove beneath an umbrella-like oak tree, where a creek trickled through, and where sunlight shafts spoke of fountains, a thousand shades of green and a sky of cerulean blue- like the blue in a paintbox he was given one year… Vines trailed off from the upper limbs of the ancient oaks and the dog and he walked all the way around a small circular valley.
When the sun was still at about eleven and the shadows of the cow pies on the far hillside had turned to the east, he made his way into the living room, the dog lay down on an oriental rug, and there was a flurry from the parrot, who now wanted milk. “Milk Milk Milk! Milk milk milk!” He had to laugh. He sat down at a card table which had an enameled white top, inlaid into a table structure of yellow spruce, varnished to a bright yellow. Inside a drawer of the table he kept a small chess set. He set up the pieces and began to daydream.
One of the rooks became a watchtower, then a knight took Queen’s pawn. The black bishop and the white King were at pains to avoid each other and danced a minuet counterpoint against one another in rococo double-time. Soon the blue jays that perched on the backyard wall would scream, and another noon would be announced, sunlit and shadow on the gnomon of the garden sundial.
Then it was a salad, and a sandwich before him. He dipped into a plate of spinach and arugula leaves topped with tomatoes, pomegranate arils, diced pears and feta cheese, and chased it with the sandwich, made of fried bread, mozzarella, tomato and basil. The afternoon also sat well with a glass of red wine, and he sat down to write. What more would do, for such a glorious day? Gratitude, again, of course.
His companion wrapped an arm around him as he wrote, and she spoke to him of things she wanted for them to regard together. Like many of the people around him who wanted good for him, she had known the trials and the frustrations of being in situations where the will of others preceded his satisfactions. He was not going to let those things rewrite his drama for him. Life was too short for the editing to be left to others, who might not understand.
And by the time he stopped typing, the blue sky with a little white puff of cloud wisping its way east. The dining room window sat on the east side of the house, with the piano (its keys had stuck fast from years of neglect) and the early morning garden, which opened with French jalousy doors right into the wall between the dining room and kitchen.
White ceramic tiles broken by that same cerulean blue borders lined a U-shaped counter top, the middle panel which was set with a sink. And beneath the sink was an amazing jungle of pipes which led down down the dark ladders, into the snakelike and plutonian mystery of plumber’s nightmares. Such it was, usually, but only in the winter.
The dining table had been set by Martina Louise- with blue glass goblets and brass candlesticks above a solid red tablecloth. Orange napkins rested beside placemats made of Sunset Magazines. “This is about as close as we will ever get to being in it” he liked to joke with her. But it was hard to argue, the magazines did sop up a good deal of spillage which might have been disaster for that solid red tablecloth. They sighed, and life went on.
He stared at the white tile and remembered an afternoon as a twelve year old when Tapioca had gone to war with Bosco during a duel fought over a staggering peanut butter and banana sandwich. The Gravy Train had come and gone, leaving a stale taste of old Hamburger Helper behind. That was an old wrinkle. But again Martina Louise had saved the day, handing him a jelly doughnut full of dark red cherry fruit and syrup, she had baked a whole rack of them, and for this again he was grateful. She placed a teacup at his side, smiled, and lit her own cigarette, blowing the smoke somewhere off toward Fremont.
Outside the garden door were cool brook stones creating a path through winding nasturtiums, sweet peas, and hydrangea. Bright scarlet flowers announced themselves with bright yellow stamens, purple pistils and even tiger striped petals. The parrot hopped onto the table and began dancing around a candlestick. He did this with a pure theatrical zeal, he had been encouraged at this and had taken it up as an afternoon’s pleasure, dancing around the tabletop for his human caretakers.
News knew the dance, and he knew the whole neighborhood better than the back of his own hand. It was almost as though the map of the area were indelibly carved into some neurons up there, or something. But he watched the changes in season, the grass which yellowed in May and came back green in November, the wild geese that drew their v’s against the autumn sky and winged south along the ridges and valley that ran behind the foothills near his home, the way the rain always wet one wall of his house a certain way each year, and not even roofing renovations could change it…
Each year the new green broke through the widening cracks in the asphalt of the driveway and the pines and oleanders grew taller and the eucalyptus left their red shreds of last season’s bark in long sheets that clogged the unpaved edges of the main street, running north-south, along the west side of the house.
Looking out the dining room windows he had a far stretching view of the East Bay Hills and Regional Park District, and lights from SFO-bound airplanes lit up the dusky twilight each night with their steady oncoming progress… planes made their turn a bit further south over the foothills of Stanford University, headed north near the slat flats, the ever shrinking pile of Leslie’s table salt that sat at the base of the harbor – (San Francisco Peninsula’s one excuse for a harbor!) and brought their flaps down as they pulled over the rocks and trees of Coyote Point…
Afternoon, and so, now was time for tea. While News forsook tea for the morning coffee, it was Martina Louise insisted on both his presence and his participation. She liked to make the tea in an informal way, not completely or severely Japanese, but casual, calm, collected, and if she could hazard it, as English as she might make it. She preferred Darjeeeling or Oolong, but had been recently converted by the green tea propagandists, so she felt if only News consumed a cup- of her green tea- per day, he was doing more for himself than a lot of his friends. But at this age he hardly cared. Some risks were more worth taking than others, and he certainly wasn’t sorry for many of the risks he’d taken on the way- he’d survived the rapids, and was ready now for some long, slow, stretches of lazy waters.
He sat zazen on a cushioned mat for the next hour looking inside himself as well as the outside manifestation incorporating itself as sound in the Now. This was thought thinking how not to think. Slowing down the train, stopping the river. Like one pebble in the stream.
When he came down from his zen cloud he put Echoes by Pink Floyd on the stereo and allowed the limpet green submarine of BritPop to massage his jaded and Balkanized braincells. For twenty minutes more, loud and soft -both dynamics- rose and fell and reminded him: ever-present all is illusion even as it is manifesting as real I am here I am not here I am there I am nowhere.
At the dinner hour when the clouds and geese had flown by and the sky was a purple folded orange sunset.The new bell ringing was the one hand clapping sought for amongst the folds of grey matter. No mind, no matter.
She motioned to him that there was food again on the table. Dinner would be a pizza with smoked salmon and it was hot and it was good and it was right out in front of him a whole platter of steaming crust not too hard not too soft just exactly right of course there were vegetables- green peppers and mushrooms- and the wonder of pizza being a pizza is so much like life itself- all your main ingredients satisfying daily nutritional requirements a meal-in-one a score a real specimen of la dolce vita taken with a glass of red wine all the better to cheer the heart.
That was a satisfying end to things and more gratitude of course for having had the chance to experience such a wonderful presence in Martina Louise, everpresent eversteady everkind. As evening came on the sound of crickets in the tall grass of the southern hillside rose from the dun-colored dried up straw and the air quivered in summer heat ever so slowly cooling as night broke. Some called this earthquake weather. It might as well be.
She led him by the hand to their bed and the bedspread was of a Pondicherry print with borders of curling green bough branches and an inner repeated pattern of a tree, an elephant, and a tiger. She pulled her robe up over her shoulders and unfastened his shirt and they were again like a pair of seagoing fish swimming deeply in an embrace like a star cloud she enveloped him her inner expanses like a hot hydrogen star ignited by an inner passion. Gratitude such a goddess had passed this way…
All consuming in the Now their orgasm the light in the southern sky the moonlight now falling in silver beams reflecting off the surface of the leaves remaining green on the aspens in the yard next door and the red blinking lights of a far off satellite tracing across the deep dark constellations of the night sky the leaves quaking and shivering like their sighs together a final surge of protoplasmic manifestation of desire and they collapse like spent otters remaining entwined as they drift off to sleep in the kelp beds of the cosmos.
But that was only one moment not the end of evening there were still the nightly returns to the world to be got to- News answered all email at night and only when he felt like it- he also checked to see what had happened round the wide old world through the day. He lived for the ideal without going out of his door he could know all things on earth so being wired in was not to be disregarded no matter how set against nonorganic foundations he was expecting one day the world would get wise to itself once everyone was plugged in and turned on and that self expression would no longer be the privilege of those granted status as modern day princes but the property of one and all a means by which all voices could find a way to reach out and connect with strange Others.
Most of what the world takes for news, News had decided, was always some result or other of the chaos of Evil breaching the general Goodness of All Things. Something goes sour here and there, and more because the forces which establish it are always seeking a disruption of the calm everpresent in the Now. Those forces are all about how Next, not what Now. It’s easy to tell the people who need them most, they have the most objections to things just flowing along without interference. The more interference and static in the line, the more stationary the obstinance becomes in resistance to the Flow that these people usually end up living a lot like rocks. News knew better than that.
From their bedroom ceiling hung a lamp which had a blue and a red bulb on either side and this lamp was suspended with a retractable cord allowing its height to be raised or lowered. Sometimes he signaled a neighbor friend by flashing it against the windows. A small wooden nightstand held a small ceramic jar in which he kept those discreet herbal pleasures, and on the window ledge one night in a playful mood he had scratched a line from a Bob Dylan song: Oh Mama can this really be the end to be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again. On the outer side of the window he had scraped into the woodwork “Come All You Roving Minstrels and Together We Will Try To Rouse The Spirit” giving the effect of engraved woodburning with only a penknife. That was in his adolescence though- these two legacies had long ago been Still, he enjoyed the fact he’d been that taken by both songs at one point early, early in his time.
In the Winter, when cabin fever would cover them like a thick bank of snow and the
seemingly unceasing rain dripped from the outer eaves and seeped its way into that one wall and the mornings always began with smoke-like steam rising from the beams atop the fence posts, they would sit on the back porch swing together and listen to Van Morrison and Sandy Denny records. The little house had been his shelter, cave, and retreat for the better part of his life- what more could he need?
Down the road he heard a robin singing.