“It’s for my retiuhment,” exclaimed a gentleman as he set down his black leather bag and extended his hand.
“Doc!” I noted the familiar sport coat of brown tweed, the woolen vest, the striped shirt and collar. I asked “How are the Goruslawski twins over in Polish Town?”
“No failiuh to thrive,” he chuckled, “after a hundred and fifteen yeahs.”
I looked over his shoulder at a long table held a large group of sunburned men who punctuated their high spirits with an occasional obscenity. “Golfers,” I said to myself. With a little fumbling I hoisted the ol’ ‘Spex into an eye-socket, then made out the words on a few of their caps: “Myrtle Beach.” Then I panned the instrument to a table near them where a businesslike woman sat typing, unperturbed by the disorder, and read her name plate: “Miss Keith.”
A basket of rolls dared me to steal one. Now out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed a gent who wore a uniform as gray as his skin; he held a rifle upright in one hand and a canteen in the other as he sipped under a mustache. I was trying to remember where I had seen him when Doc Gibbs passed in front of me to apply his stethoscope to the chest of an attractive woman; she wore a black veil and bright pink earrings that matched the rounded top of her black-brimmed hat.
“Steady,” said a nearby man, who reached out his arm. I say “arm” because he had only one, same as the farmer next to him. They were drinking what I assumed was white wine from Mason jars. “Thanks,” I murmured. Next to them was a table with no chairs, and atop it–a coiled rope? No, by God, a viper! Sitting atop coils, it curved its head downward into a glass of wine–a fanged straw. I stuck out my own tongue but the animal shot a look that cause me to hustle backwards.
“Excuse me,” I said, turning to find my chin only inches from kiss-me lipstick. Hearing my own intake of breath, I prayed for a warm exhalation from deep-red lips. But nothing seemed to escape the net that hung from a large-turned-up-brim hat, which raked over the woman’s right eye. Her left one stared darkly ahead. “Blink?” I offered. No response, so I tried “Pink”–as I admired her earrings and the rounded top of her chapeau. No motion or sound, let alone a transfer of pigment, so I was relieved to hear a female voice from somewhere in the room.
Singing, it had a lilt that drew my gaze toward the massive stone fireplace. Her chair took up a corner so that her great, folded wings could press against two walls. From the chair hung a pair of goggles. Her boots could be glimpsed under the table, which I soon reached. Her eyes lit up as she recognized me. As I bent over to hug her, I almost dropped a few tears of relief at her safety. “Unfaith! Welcome back to Floyd County!”
“My dear Randall, how often I remember your kind rescue–followed by your hospitality! And our Sunday morning colloquy!”
“I guess if you can drop onto my deck you can do the same into my next book.”
Smiling, she reached up to clasp my neck, then removed a glove, extended an index finger, and brushed my lower lip affectionately. “Cookie?”
“No thanks, already had a big one.”
“So I see. ‘What if I eat one of these cakes?’ thought Alice.'” I was happy that she could maintain her erudition while shedding a few pounds for safety. And she was enjoying a bottle of wine with a hearty-looking gentleman. “Randall, are you acquainted with Mr. Biv?”
“Roy!” He and I smiled over the wine glasses. “Believe it or not, Unfaith,” I said with a some enthusiasm, “he inaugurated an earlier chapter of Floydiana.” As this personage stood, I had to tilt my head back a little to see his eyes above an orange beard-and-mustache and ruddy cheeks. The right iris was blue and the left hazel. (I remembered calling this anomaly by the wrong word. “‘Condition‘!?” he had repeated, with a voluble, good-natured scoff, “It’s a commission!”)
“Unfaith,” he explained, “was just singing about Night–song by Strauss–‘Nicht that ‘Nimmeth’–”
“‘Nimmt das Silber weg des Stroms,'” she recited. ”’Takes the silver from the streams.'”
I supposed that it couldn’t take the golden gleam from Roy’s tooth. “Randall,” he confided, “I feel blah when sunshine drains away. A sort of anemia. Need that refraction!” He opened both hands backward toward his outfit: “Voilà! Today it’s a letter-P theme.” His voice boomed as he motioned from scarf to sweater to pants to socks to shoes: “Pumpkin…. Puce…. Platinum…. Periwinkle…. Palatinate-purple.” I was grateful for the dim light. I also worried about Unfaith: remembering her story about trying to navigate through fog, I wondered how she could fly in the dark tonight. Maybe Roy would take his fellow daylight-dependent under a wing of his own.
“Is this,” I asked myself, “a different kind of stoney reality?” Now why were people were staring at me. Can’t someone proclaim “Ontogeny recapitulates philanthropy”? That voice nearby–isn’t he speaking Arabic?” I avoided turning around lest it be Cide Hamete Benengeli himself.
“Randall,” asked Roy warmly, “are you with us?”
‘I’d like to introduce you to my friend.” He turned to someone who was slight of build and, well, indeterminate of gender. Exotic dark skin and eyes gained did little to offset black clothing: a tailored jacket, hip-length with a mandarin collar; puffy trousers; slipper-shoes; and a hat that would be unnoticed in Uttar Pradesh. The outfit was set off by a necklace that sparkled in the nearby orange flickers. “You don’t suppose,” I thought.
“J. Krishnamurti,” declared this personage, smiling over an extended hand. Astonished and honored, I watched eyes widen at the ocular amulet I wore like a necklace. “This must be the fabled HaruSpex! The seer-circle of gems eleven! Very Imposing–no need for Liberace’s fifty-pound rhinestone!” We chuckled. As to the speaker’s sex, no help came from an amiable “Call me ‘J'”–nor the letter air-drawn, backward as a courtesy. The person’s accent was also a challenge, as was the vocabulary, so I just nodded at vatic and valorization. Yet we conversed at length, spiritedly, encouraged by wine, wood-flames, and laughter.
“I’ve always admired your counsel,” I said: “Observation without evacua–”
“Evaluation,” came the reminder.
“Sorry, that was Chateau Fideau speaking.”
As J’s necklace became an ellipsis of stars, each sparkling at random, I felt somewhat hypnotized. The bottle of Black Dog empty, J had the sudden notion to scribble a line on a napkin and cork it inside. What I presumed was Sanskrit script appeared, moving from right to left. “Is it Jai Isham ishvaram?”
“‘Ontology recapitulates philately’?” A shake of the head. “”Hope this pup can paddle'”?
“No, indeed. It’s ‘Miller, be not ground!'” Unable to absorb this information, trying to keep my balance physically and mentally, I followed him outdoors. Into the cold, salty wind we leaned, hugging ourselves. We trudged up the dune, heard the almost invisible smashing of waves against the beach, and flung the blue vessel into the silver-topped, churning surf.