Sunday, January 4, 2015

Manuscripts Don't Burn

“His bruised memory has subsided again and until the next full moon no one will trouble the professor – neither the noseless man who killed Hedeas nor the cruel Procurator of Jueda, fifth in that office, the knight Pontius Pilate. “

"What are you going on about?" Iris gently closes her book, but places it with annoyance onto her lap.

"It's from a book I left here...the first time we stayed here together. I was hoping I could find it." Aidan traces the spines of the musty books on the shelf, as if the one in question will light up when he touches it.

"Why don't you just buy a new copy?" She bites her lip as the last word comes out of her mouth.

Aidan stops, his face red from stooping over. His finger never leaves the book he is on as he turns his head to his wife of 15 years. "You not understanding the importance of finding that book is exactly why we've taken this holiday together in the bloody middle of nowhere." He returns to the stacks.

Iris sighs and removes to hair band off her wrist and places it in her mouth before pulling her ebony hair up into a hastily secured bun.  

Aidan stops, kneels and turns his head to her. "I'm sorry. There is something in the book I am looking for." The fireplace crackles in the absence of their talking. The clock in the kitchen keeps track of the seconds that elapse between their exchange.

"Is that why we came here?" The floor creaks as she stands and walks into the kitchen. She can hear his hurried bare feet approaching. As she turns, he is directly behind her.

"I don’t want to give up on what we have – the life we’ve built." He places his hands on her hips.

At 40, she knows he catches the eye of her girlfriends. He has the subtle graying hairs that blend naturally with his short, blonde hair. His fine lines from smiling are hidden by a week's worth of not shaving. His gray eyes have lost the shine though.

He moves his hands behind her ears, he loves her ears and the tiny emerald earrings she wears, and how she tucks her dark hair behind her ears. He removes the band from her hair, allowing it to fall around her face.

"I was hoping that was why we were here." She threads her fingers in his belt loops. As she takes a deep breath and looks into his eyes, she can smell an intoxicating mixture of simmering wood and his cologne. "How did we get here? How did we let this go?"

He wraps his muscular arms around her.

She leans into his chest. She can tell he is smelling her hair.

"Why don't you pour us some drinks, I'll stoke the fire." He hesitates. "We need to be honest with each other."

"I've got nothing to hide. Bourbon?"

"Neat." He kisses her on the head.

The silence again fills the cottage on the harbor side in Findochty Scotland. The boats move up and down as a storm gathers in the mountains. The sunset glows off the water, pinks and golds reflect into the cottage, highlighting the dwindling sun of the day. The fire is again roaring and Iris brings their drinks over and sets them down on the trunk that serves as a coffee table.

She sits and picks up her glass, a cloudy concoction that draws immediate attention from Aidan. "Death in the afternoon? When did you become inspired by Hemingway?" He picks up his bourbon and sits next to her.

She puts her legs over his as they clink glasses. "I always wanted to try absinthe." She sips the strong concoction and smiles.

"I think Hemingway said drink three to five of those slowly. At this rate, you'll be quoting Poe by midnight." The lines that had been missing from Aidan's eye appear again.

 "I haven't seen you truly smile in so long." Iris looks down at her drink. "I was starting to think that once I became a mother you had this weird psychological abhorrence of me. Or you don’t find me attractive anymore. "

"Our kids are 12 and 10...and you’re in better shape now than when I met you. Why did you start thinking this now?" He sets his bourbon on the coffee table.

"I read that somewhere. Tried to figure out what I was doing wrong." She sighs and gives one of her slow blinks that drive him crazy. Crazy like he’d like to rip her clothes off because when she does this her cinnamon eyes seems so large and exotic and mind-altering. He calls them her gypsy eyes.

Aidan takes the drink from her and places it next to his on the coffee table. He then takes her hands in his. “Love, it’s not the kids. It’s not your body. And it isn’t psychological. ” He hesitates. “Look, I think we should both just be honest about our…”

“Our what?” Iris sits straight up from her relaxed position.

“Our…you know our affairs.” He stares at her.

“Where was I going to find time for that between hockey games, swim practice, checking homework, and working midnight shifts for that? Affairs?” She swallows, blinks, and then her eyes start to tear.

“Well, I thought, you and someone at work…”

Iris stands and runs her fingers through her hair. She bows her head and then speaks. “Well I will be the first to admit that cops have to have a pretty close relationship, but Jack and I don’t have that kind of one. You’ve never even met him and you make this assumption.”

As she takes a few steps towards Aidan, he stands in defense. “You haven’t had an affair with anyone at work? I know this new partner of yours is young, probably pretty attractive.”

“I told you before I’ve nothing to hide. But apparently you’ve got something to tell me?”

Aidan’s face matches the red in his flannel shirt. Iris, who stands six inches shorter than him, gets closer to him and stands blocking his only egress into the kitchen.
Aidan bends his head back and rubs his face as if this now nightmare will be gone when he opens his eyes. “When I thought you were having an affair, I didn’t know what to do. That’s when I started staying late. I ended up at a bar a few blocks away from the firm. Met someone random. Someone who was just as confused as I was. ” He sits again, this time he clasps his hands over his head and talks into the floor. “I really swore you were seeing someone. You seemed so lost. So unhappy.”

Iris walks over and sits on the coffee table. “My new partner is gay. He’s been trying to figure out a way to really live his life and I was someone he could talk to. And when I knew you were becoming distant, I started confiding in him…I know I should have said something to you, what I felt, but I knew you’d deny anything.”

Aidan glances at Iris. “Maybe I wouldn’t have.” He stands, hovering over her.

“Are you in love?”

“It was only a few times. I felt so awful, but I figured that if you were out there having some fun, why shouldn’t I.?” His voice begins to sound stressed. “I don’t love him. I know I love you.”

“Him?” Iris stands, almost falling over the coffee table.

“That might be the other reason why I’ve seemed kind of distant.” Aidan sits on the couch, Iris close behind and at his side.

“I was curious. I always have been.” He voice trails off.

“We’ve known each other for twenty years. How come I never knew this?” The tears begin to swell again but never manifest. “Why didn’t you ever tell me? I’ve told you all my desires and even my fears.”

“I didn’t want to lose you.” Iris begins to speak, but Aidan cuts her off. “I know, my reasoning doesn’t make sense. And you know this isn’t like when you told me you wanted to try S&M. This is what’s been in my heart for a while, it’s me.”

The two sit in darkened silence. The sun has gone down. Every few seconds, a metal railing or a green starboard light awakens the black air. A hint of the wind can be heard with a clanging bell off on the other side of the harbor. Aidan and Iris sit together, leaning into each other, exhausted. Their breaths begin to match one another’s; seemingly in cadence for the first time in years.

“So now what?” Aidan speaks in almost a whisper.

“Did he help you?” She lifts her head off his shoulder and looks into this eyes that hold the reflection of the fireplace. “Did he help us? I mean, as insolated as I became, I can’t imagine my life without you, the kids…”

“I think it did. It brought us here. I felt so guilty that I knew I had to do something. I wanted to come back to a place where we had so many good memories.” He kisses Iris’ forehead. “I’m curious, what did your partner say to you? What advice did he give you?”

She laughs to herself and shakes her head. “You two would get along great. He’s incredibly smart, loves books. He said to me ‘manuscripts don’t burn.’ Of course being only a lover of Anne Rice’s vampires and witches I had to ask him what he was quoting.”

“The Master and Margarita.” Aidan jumps up from the couch and runs over to the cutout by the fireplace that holds the wood. He reaches his hand up behind into the dark tomb and pulls out a book covered in dust. After some attempt to clean it off, he opens the cover.

Iris sits, slightly confused. “That reminded you where it was?”

Aidan smiles and walks over and sits next to Iris. “Yes, you see that line is famous in this book. It essentially means that whatever you are, whatever you’ve done in life, you can’t destroy it.”

“But why did you hide the book?” She takes it from him and turns a few pages.

“For this reason. I remembered how innocent and happy and clueless we were when we first came here. I had just read that book and it really had an impact on me. It was something that made sense to me. But turn to chapter 31, in the back.”

Iris flips the pages until finally, at almost the very end of the book, she comes across a napkin. She takes it out and begins to laugh. ‘Seriously, you kept this?”

“Well you can't pass up an offer like ‘call me or regret it for the rest of your life’ written on a bar napkin.” He places his hand on her face. “I never wanted to lose this, that passion.” The wind rattles the window panes outside as the two lovers kiss. “So is this something that goes into the Christmas card update?” Adian caresses her hair behind his wife’s ears.

“That’s so funny that the two of you have this passion for that book. That there is a line that captures the essence of life for you.”

“Since we’re letting out all truths tonight. I do have another copy. I was actually reading it when I met John.”

“Will you tell me about him?” She pauses, “I mean, only if you want to.” She takes his hands into hers.

Aidan sighs. “I never thought I’d have to do this. Um, well, he’s young. Looks younger than he really is. We stuck up a conversation over the book. Turns out he had the same last name as one of the characters.”

“He’s cute?”

“Are you getting excited, little vixen?”

“I want to know what he looks like. What’s he like?” She scratches her short nails through his shaven hair.

“Adorable. Your type probably. We promised each other as much anonymity as possible-it was both our first time. So I don’t know much about him. He’s Russian, used to be a lawyer. He’s a swimmer and …
Ponyryov?” Iris hold Aidan’s face so their eyes lock.


“Ponyryov? Is that his last name?”

“It is. How did you know? His name is John Ponyryov.”

“The greenest eyes you’ve ever seen. Tattoo of a day of the dead sugar skull on his shoulder.” Iris is animated as she describes this man. She finds her drink and downs it all in one swallow.

“Sounds like you know … him?”

Iris begins to laugh. “I can’t believe it.” She laughs to herself and keeps saying “I can’t believe it.”

“Iris, what?”

“Jack. I was giving advice to my partner, who I know as Jack, about none other than you. I told him to go for it. I remember when you met. I remember when you first had sex, which by the way, he described in adjectives I have never heard before. You can’t make this up. I have myself to blame – but for what I’m not sure. Because now, we’re talking again and I need…another drink.”

Aidan sits on the couch stunned as Iris stokes the fire with a poker a few times to awaken it. She walks to the kitchen, still mumbling to herself, and pours herself another absinthe mixed with champagne. The cloudy mixture looks orange in the firelight. She turns to Aidan, still sitting in shock on the couch.

“Well, you gave him good advice. And now that you mention it,” He picks up his bourbon and takes a hearty hit of it, “he was very appreciative of the support a friend gave him. The confidence you gave to him to follow his heart...Would you have given me the same advice?”