I am about to leave.
And then, I am not.
I am not ready to leave. I should but I won’t.
The Frenchman is back behind the saloon doors and has taken a phone call, cackling obnoxiously like an invasive species, stupid and hidden and preying upon something I cannot see but know is rightfully mine.
She is no longer down the aisle. But she has left a wake. Invisible to all but me, I feel. A wake, a trail, a residue, an illusion, floating in the air like functions and formulas dissipating in the mind of a hapless genius.
I get to the end of the aisle and she is still gone. I look left, right, turn and walk to see the other aisles.
She is not by the cat food. She is not by the choke collars. She is not by the medicines.
But I feel she is near. Halfway across the store I hear the Frenchman again in his musty office, his heels on his desk, ensconced in his dimwitted pigpen of obsolete appliances and stacks of forms attempting fraud, outyelling the criminal at the other end of his call.
I wonder if she ever goes in there. My body is going numb. I have sprung a leak, my body’s walls sagging into me. I am collapsing into myself. I am running out.
She is not by the kennels. She is not by the register. She is not by the entrance.
I remember the groceries in my knapsack. I need to get home to feed Eve.
Eyes glistening, my head hits the pillow, nudging a sigh through my smile. In her cage out in the living room, Electra gracefully meanders through an adagio solo flirting with middle C. Eve stands in the hallway quietly licking her bowl clean of the tartare – steak, fish sauce, ear, Époisses – that I prepared with love.
Love. What a word, what a word.
Philia, storge, eros, agape. The book on my chest is The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. The hand I hold it with has each finger tucked between a different pair of pages.
The girl. She is a vision, has become a vision.
This was the last thing I expected. It occurs to me that this must be a little bit like what it must have felt to be Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. I can think of nothing else. I have a new purpose.
But how did this happen? This is all too soon.
This is not right.
These words are unfolding in a wrong way. Just like the bit about the philosophers of language, or that smug punning of manage, ménage, and menagerie. They didn’t come out right. They can’t be part of my terrain, my element. Trees have knots and knobs. But language, too?
She wore jeans and a t-shirt, ordinary hair, small as a child. Hardly the stuff of a vision.
This is not coming together the way it’s supposed to.
Is this how feeling happens? An urge bubbles up out of nowhere?
I’d call it intuition but there are other signs. Electra has grown silent, and there’s now a Bonsai on the ledge in the window alcove that wasn’t there before. Neither the tree nor the alcove.
She was dressed in white and blue. Her hair, black as velvet, black as a panther, a gilded aura on the edges like a panther, straight as a feather.
I have to go back.
There was nothing there. The first time I saw her, there was nothing. I was there for the Frenchman, for Eve.
At one of my fingertips sits the passage, “The especial glory of Affection is that it can unite those who most emphatically, even comically, are not; people who, if they had not found themselves put down by fate in the same household or community, would have had nothing to do with each other. If Affection grows out of this of course it often does not their eyes begin to open.”
But I hardly noticed her the first time. Is that Lewis’s point? Were she and I emphatically disunited? Comically disunited?
There is an invisible hand here in play.
I know it and I can feel it. There is a stack of mail on the side table now that wasn’t there before. It was on the table in the dining room before and I know I didn’t bring it in here with me.
Pure and regal, and delicate, a shock darker than country night.
I would say I’m strongly against this but somewhere inside me I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure that I’ve been against this very much at all. Or even a little, a portion.
After all, I paid the Frenchman to provide me with a creature, “shall we say, supremely challenging to obtain?”
After all, I told him, “Surprise me. Impress me.”
Could it be that when I said this, I meant something else? Something unsaid?
Could it be – what a frightening thought! – but could it be that I have thus far conjured enough of myself in these words to assert that I in fact have a subconscious? That my mind has a motivation beyond the periphery of reason? That inside of me there is a creature of its own being?
Or is it the invisible hand?
Beneath the covers, I am all words, tattered phrases, sentences waiting to be finished. But the part of me that shows is real, in the flesh, done. There is no going back.
Philia? Storge? Or perhaps the Chinese ai? In the Buddhist sense?
Of the book on my chest, I have already memorized one passage, one alone, learned completely on first sight as if I had written it myself: “Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman. In some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion the lover desires the Beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give.”
I could not stand if I tried. I have been smitten.