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by that time

By That Time


By that time, I’d changed. There was less compulsion.  After all, everything that lasted, rested.  And everything was alive. 

A lot of it had been motivated by pure pain. My excuse? I didn’t want to know. I was naïve. I thought she’d never come. It surprised me to see her in that light. Her voice was tense. Her face was pale and gray. She wanted assurances. By that time, I’d started for the door. It was obvious I couldn’t accomplish anything here. My “ghost” stayed. I’ve never forgotten that night or that desperate face. 

I showered and shaved. I had a plane to catch. Later, of course, I would understand. They wanted to intimidate me although I had nothing to confess — except everything. 

She seemed like the kind of girl who didn’t care. But I was in for a shock. Their relationship seemed out of place. Her idea was to be everywhere at once. Then something happened that I couldn’t have foreseen. The train had already left the station. I could see tracks leading off into the distance. Hadn’t she heard anything? 

It seemed like a very good time was had by all. His mouth flopped open in surprise. Was this where it ended? By now it was midnight and I was wide awake. It was not a great escape. He had gone and no one knew where. It was a very tense situation. I tried to hang on for dear life but she kept dragging me down. He was irate. How could she… etc., etc. 

I let the enormity of it sink in. I was no fool. All things being equal, I would do it again. I raced to stay ahead. I was alert. I thought it was a transgression of my personal space, frankly. “That’s what I’m here for,” she said. I paused at the gate. Had she been angry or just sad? 

But being out in the cold was just where I wanted to be. By that time, he came in with his friends and pretty much took over. I hadn’t seen her for years. A very bright future seemed clearly ahead for her. With him at the helm… “Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.” “No, you were right to tell,” I said. Now was her chance to go to the big city and shine. Of course she took it. Wouldn’t you? 

I found another way to breathe easy. I got off once, I can get off again, I thought. It wasn’t as though they were paying me. 

When I got home, the place was in disarray. Things strewn everywhere. So that was how they want to play it, I thought. I went upstairs. No one there. Frank was still on the street. He called George. I checked out the car. I talked to them a few days later. They were undecided. I was brief but complete. The animal in me needed to explain, to justify. Immediately I regretted it. The air was thick that night. 

He hung a right turn. I wanted to know if everything was OK. The room was full of mechanical objects. She began to sing. It was uncanny! The voice was the same! I was seeing one thing and believing another! I spent the day trying to find her. She said, “Give me a break.” Her hands shook. Her whole plan was to trap me there, I thought. I was over-powered by the moment. We had a lot to discuss. She had endured enough. 

By that time they’d arrived but I was gone. I inserted the key. There was a narrow space. I fingered the stone. I wanted to re-create the scene. There was nothing to see. Just their dry, dead bones. 

About then I got a message from her begging me to meet her at the usual place. I asked her what she had agreed to in writing. She was very upset. Then the funniest thing happened when I turned on the lights. I saw an infant child with a golden face. It spoke to me: “Take a little drink before you go.” 

I had to switch trains, which delayed me. But then everything was settled. She spoke to me privately. The situation had exploded. She had no idea what was inside. I had a glimpse of a fleeting car. I felt a vacant gnawing in my bones. By that time everyone had agreed on one thing. That was good enough as far as she was concerned. I tried to backpedal. He agreed without emphasis. I couldn’t help but hear what they said. It made a lot of sense. The average guy would've run. “I had no idea she’d be hurt,” he said. Like it or not, they had their way. One or two excuses later, she came to her senses. There was nothing to do but hope. 

A blazing flame lit up the atmosphere. I hoped my career would take off but she had other plans for me that needed to be rectified. 

They were coming. I could feel it. It was like she was dancing on a dime. Everybody was talking. I raised my hand. Other things began to bother me. Both of them looked up simultaneously. I was careless. It was a freakish accident and no one was to blame. Walking in the woods that night, I thought I saw her. Her blouse was open. My only impulse was to restore what little dignity I had. She had her own quandaries. Finally I was able to calm them down and I think they understood. By that time, he was dead. 

I saw them clearly through my binoculars. They pretended they didn’t notice. I followed their trail. It was a bit too cold for her taste. They ignored her. There was still a spark of life on the streets. She was afraid. They both laughed and he left. Now it was my turn to cry. The room gleamed in my memory. I didn’t understand her motivation. It was bizarre. The whole place was deserted. I felt terribly pleased for a second. Her fate had been sealed by events beyond her control. The sun came out. 

I gave it a lot of thought. All this stalling and hesitation — I could see through it all. It was time to expand and take up other things. My life was on the line. I was filled with memories. But nature calls the shots, not our weak hearts. 

Hands together, now clap! I was waiting for a sound. I felt a wonderful calm. I reasoned with her. I contemplated suicide. It had been a sham, a fake! She got madder than hell. Her nails were very sharp. I got in the car. By that time, I was breathing easy again. 

They were very upset. By that time they had everything to lose and nothing to gain. She was gone. I wondered what to do. I had missed so many things. They resembled jelly beans which had expanded into something else. 

Her understated elegance attracted attention. All the boys knew her. I had a handful of pity. I had previously said that the enormous crime was due to a foul environment plus a psychotic personality. No one could sit down. I replaced what I had with something more useful. Like him, I was naïve. His attitude had nothing to do with it. “I’ll wait for you,” she said. But I knew she didn’t mean it. Her hand was cold. 

He was in a lonely hotel. A truck sped by. He had a dream. He was awake and feeling. Now he was dead. There was nothing in between. By that time, the door had opened and he went in. The other guests arrived. She had survived. Her sisters were dead. She refused help. No one had made clear what was at stake. Her face mirrored her chagrin. I was puzzled but not surprised. The dreams kept fading in. She had a history, I suppose. 

One thing about Harry, he doesn’t sleep well. I laughed when I saw him. One thing was enough. I let them fight it out. It had nothing to do with me. They enjoyed their vacation in the sun. It was almost too ideal to resist. He made sure everything was prepared. I looked away. 

By that time they had reported the incident. So they went away. In a jam he could be relied upon. I rubbed the stone. It was real all right. Like a piece of clay, I thought, for all the trouble it’s brought. She had sneaked away to meet him uptown. I was kind of in a hurry. I saw them scurry up the stairs hand in hand. 

By that time, I’d arrived. There was nothing left to see. I didn’t say no, I didn’t say yes. No one cheered. All I asked for was what we’d agreed to in writing. I was aware of their every mood. I was delighted to see a friendly face. He was just a memory. Her hip had mended. By that time the situation exploded and everyone was exhausted. They entered a vast and silent space. 

It had something to do with rice. He had reached a point of “no concern.” I was alert to the crisis. They approached me in the hall. I was crying out loud for someone to come down and clean up the place. He didn’t listen. She was adamant about the plan. There was nothing else they could do but hope that their proud heritage wouldn’t end. That same landscape had appeared in her dreams more vividly than reality. He seemed to laugh. It was clearly a need that he felt. That realization was like a knife in his chest. 

There was nothing to do but wait and see. He took something out of his pocket. He didn’t believe her for a second. She came in like a breeze. Of course, everything had been up in the air for years. They had all fallen into the same trap. I felt a residue of guilt that soon went away. Across the river I could see the house in the day’s last gleam. I took a stick and threw it. She decided to forgive and forget. He had turned up the heat. A curtain of dread fell over my thoughts. 

It was a tragic, tender scene. She didn’t complain, they didn’t explain. They thought no one would make a fuss. She gathered up her courage. It wasn’t time for games. He had on his fake hat. By that time it was nearly dark. They were enormously pleased. She was swaddled in bandages and never left the room. He was aghast. He had no more desire, only a bitter taste. Two lips said farewell. Her head swiveled around at that. It had been a “sad mistake.” 

He was blind and bitter. He had a heart attack. There was something strange about his appearance. She waltzed around the question. I thought he was dying. The two of them retreated. By that time he had regained consciousness. Her glance could have frozen ice. One day he left without a note. It was his surprise. All the niceties were gone. That was not the option I wanted to hear. We were all gathered to celebrate. It was all like yesterday. They were in danger. He had made a mistake and now he was to pay. Was it she or them? He couldn‘t think. He hated his day-job. She was in the same boat. 

It was an equestrian race. The men asked questions. Her “royal highness” arrived with her entourage. Her aunt and the rest of the family stood their ground. It was not violent before, but that night it was. Her antipathy was plain. I took a long time to do it. My heart went out to them. The whole thought of surviving in the jungle gave her the shivers. 

By that time a new regime had taken shape. There were new forces at play. The next day we had lunch and discussed the emergency. He was undecided. She didn’t notice a thing. We reached an agreement. I phoned the number but it was busy. Later they were friends again. Her hand was in the fire. He flopped on the couch and grinned. They opened all the windows because of the smell. He entered an asylum and there he stayed. 

They gave me a stare. It seemed like nothing I did was right. I had reached what might be called the next step in my journey. I had expected too much. Still, I felt an unconscious sense of obligation to make amends. I entered the race. A feeling was in the air. A note arrived. Why me? I thought. He understood everything, I’m certain of that. Her hunch had been right. His aim was clear. He showed up out of breath. She stood up. It was a rough night. Nobody slept. Her only hope was to ask for his help. He was unresponsive, of course. That cause had been long lost. 

I had enough to go on now. He was amazed at the mess they’d left. I lay there, thinking. They were in a jam now with no one to help. His brothers got wind of it and assembled the clan. They made her stay. There wasn’t enough time to do the trick and we were lucky to get out alive. All around us, the chaos deepened. I hesitated. My heart wasn’t in it. They wanted to intervene but came up short. They hadn’t reckoned on the scope of the operation and how well they paid. I regained my composure. Her face was enigmatic. He was deeply worried. One thing that happened turned my head around. 

Fate had been kind to these blundering fools. Soon the story would be told and they could start a new life. The news fortified her expectations. Her ego expanded exponentially. My hesitancy added a sour note which she tried to restore. I was not involved however — I repeat, not involved — and had no knowledge of it. 

By that time the truth was known. There was another reign of terror. I disagreed and told them so. A new beat drummed in his ears. This pleased them not at all. She made a break for the window. There was a puff of smoke and a shower of sparks. She emerged humbled but unbowed. She told him she loved him. Her pleas fell on deaf ears. In one stroke, the whole house of cards had collapsed. They went shopping. He promised he would never do it again. The streets were crowded. The sun was out. She dialed again. He was a man she admired. Her hands trembled as she spoke. She had no intention of letting go. 

There was so much to lose. By the end of the week it became clear that his intentions were not “normal.” He was a freak in their eyes. I didn’t know how strongly they felt. It was a luminous night. The heart of the city was stilled. I awoke with an enormous headache. They were peripherally involved but didn’t know the details. I silently prayed that they wouldn’t be next. She took a picture which won a prize. There were traces of evidence that had been nearly obliterated by time. 

By that time, it was a dazzling night. I thought I should go for a walk, but fate intervened. He let himself in with a key. I saw a change in his eyes, the way he looked at me. There was no need for rancor. But I felt betrayed by my best friend. Her nervous tics were beginning to affect me. I had forgotten to lock the door. He followed me all the way here to tell me that? They looked in now and again. She seemed to ignore the issues that involved us both. I arrived at the following conclusion. It wasn’t enough to be right, you had to prove it. Of course, this was insane. But what could you expect? 

His coat was stained with blood. She wanted to know the truth. He began a long harangue about social justice. I stepped in to say that everyone was sorry and would make it up. The dots connected. Flags fluttered. The next time he was more careful. Their plans were evident. They began to boast about their accomplishments. They described scenes I couldn’t imagine. It was exciting and repulsive at the same time. They were preparing the way. As they ate and drank, he spoke. A little cloud formed on the horizon. He arrived in a cape. They rushed for shelter. He asked them twice. It was inevitable from their point of view. His whole attitude led me to think he was insincere. He initiated a rule that no one could see or understand. That was plainly what he had been waiting for. Right then, she decided to leave him. 

By that time, he was gone. The newspapers got hold of the story and said he’d skipped town. This left me in a quandary. They seemed cemented into their positions. She reported back to me. She listened to him speak. Everything had practically been taken care of and calculated to the second. The crowd believed him. He was weak, they were strong. It was a great disappointment to her. His influence waned under the circumstances. I had expected more from him. Now our lives were intertwined for a while. But to what end? They each made a toast. The other guests were delighted to hear their plans. One or two of them left. I wasn’t there when it happened. I heard they fought and he pushed her down. 

By that time, the large scope of the speculation had become known and I was feeling pretty good. I needed something else on my plate. There was a cause for everything and everything was its cause. Moving out would be a problem. Would they have an objection? I didn’t hear a thing. His timing was exquisite. 

The chickens were coming home to roost. By that time I was exhausted. His thoughts were not to the point. You’d have thought I’d have gotten more support, but you’d have been mistaken. There was no “party of the first part.” They questioned my motives and authority. But that was the deal: her silence, our mistake. Carter and Elliott were very annoyed. It was like a whirlwind approach. They sought me out, I didn’t seek them. I wasn’t going to give them away. 

The wild birds had flown. I thought I heard a helicopter. Nothing in view. It really rattled my nerves. Then something else happened that was almost like a mistake. We had to protect ourselves. Once I got there, I felt safe. But by that time their modus operandi had been revealed. I had no idea of the tremendous forces involved. It was like someone slapped me in the face. Were there some other elements in the design that were escaping my attention? I was not surprised but chagrined at being caught off-guard, with my pants down, the pawn of fate. 

The intention was the same. There was a loss of innocence. There was no hello, no goodbye. By that time, my illusions were burst. There were many friends I ignored at risk to my life. Instead, there was a curse. The whole project was abandoned. The necessary element was missing. 

She stopped the car and got out. The prairie stretched away. Now everything was forgiven. At her invitation I went to her house where we had drinks. He stood outside in the rain. “Everything is served on dirty plates,” she said. My heart went to my throat. Nothing to say, do, think, feel, be. Her inner closet was locked. 

It does it by itself. I looked back at him. He was just standing there. His hat was off to the young people. He wasn’t fully engaged in the inquiry. Simply by staying, he had gone away. Among other relics, they found his alter ego, very much alive and demanding. He was another stumbling block in the way. He once owed a large sum to a group of men, which lost him his reputation and best friend. There was no doubt about that. I had already given my word. We all knew that the substance of the claim was bogus and that she’d lied about her association with him. I went to work. 

Nobody noticed him in the office or nobody cared. He tested my patience. Her dream was sailing. It turned out to be a poor imitation of reality. Enough had been said that needed no repeating. 

By that time it was night in the city. He lit a cigar. He was not so big. He was all heat and light. He followed me to the car. His subordinate role was becoming clear. They were alone with nothing to say except trivia. I high-tailed it out of there. “Deceit before dishonor” was their motto, which meant there were always going to be some who were disappointed. She stood by him through it all. I wonder if he would have survived without her? They had all over-reached. The narrative soon unfolded. They weren’t here, they weren’t there, they didn’t know anything. None of them were there, none of them had been together, and therefore each of them was elsewhere. That counted for something. The judge was not amused. 

They were a happy crew. Her deposition had been sealed. They took a holiday and went to the beach. Her brother was there. They had turned against me. Time was rolling on and I had a lot of explaining to do. George was particularly dismissive and I never forgave him. They examined everything very intently. No one could catch him in the act. I felt used. She called with an apology. 

It was like a tremendous ironic commentary. By that time he had already, as I later found out, understood. I had no idea of the consequences. I didn’t know how to smile. I felt I couldn’t pretend anymore. They had come to take the baby away. The news was a shock. She took that as an excuse. They were desperate to see him and disconsolate when they did. Some things had been worries in the past. That was succinct, he thought. Anything would have worked better than that! The whole natural order of things revolted me. I looked back, longingly. Once I got there, I felt safe. 

The only things I knew about I had been told. I called immediately to tell her. “I wish I could have been there.” I wondered where she went. The trees went by. I saw little else. They had agreed among themselves. By that time, another hand was in the fire. “We’ve had this conversation a thousand times,” he laughed. “Apparently it doesn’t make much difference.” His discussion was so boring I almost fell asleep. It was the season for “cherry-picking.” After all, life was an effort, coward blaming coward — politician, priest. 

The whole thing was over in an instant. I had an uneasy evening or two. He told me he didn’t have time to waste. Suddenly things turned grim again. The description still didn’t fit. God, he had grown thin! Now was not the right time. It was too complicated to decide. 

He jumped the fence — something, anything, to relieve the pain. “What have I done wrong?” God had pointed His finger. They stopped by to chat. There was no one there except the cook and the maid. They had extreme expressions on their faces. He left the lavatory. He was not reticent at all. My unerring instinct had been vindicated again. She was free to go. His appearance solved everything. 

The doorway was blocked. I thought I had him convinced. Her behavior was just a pose. Nevertheless, I hung the lights as a precaution. 

His entire life had been devoted to her service. That was his strong point. I handed him the letter, which he read and handed back to me. “I wouldn’t dare. Would you?” Soon the lights were lit and hearts were aglow. Make no mistake, this was not an idle fantasy of his. All the tones coalesced into one. But I couldn’t stand talking to him. It was a living thing. They were hoping for more. He looked up. They were all in a row. I thought I saw her there. By that time, it was irrevocable. Her horrified gaze followed him out the door. He had no answers. There was a stillness, a quiet she had never known. He had tied her hands. I was not complaining. We had a long history. She'd tried to survive. 

— June 22, 2007 - January 18, 2009