The house is sided in cedar shakes and has deep white eaves.  A stained glass window in the oaken front door, and a wrap-around porch, and light like the heart’s glow from a walk, or like the sun behind the house that now melts its way down into the valley.  Along the sides of the house, tall lodgepole and hemlock and spruce stand fragrant in a bright sun after a good rain, their duff the color of the shakes, all of it trimmed and crisp in the mountain air.  There is soft music inside, and two people in love.  One of them is a good cook.  From the front door will emerge the woman, tall and blonde, to get the mail from the box down the stone steps glowing between the Japanese lawn lamps, down the slope of the yard to the steep brick street that arches like a brow to the village.  The letters will be from family, a family that still sends letters.  One will be bad news, but you know just from looking at the house that bad news will be consumed in a wash of devotion.  Her sundress flits new and white up the steps, her bare feet safe from a sharp rock or the falling night or the hint of a drunk staggering from the family tavern in the village, music pouring onto the street behind him, first a lone saxophone, then a symphony swelling.

    The house is on a television screen, and the music is played by an orchestra sparkling under the baton held by a conductor of the poignant chord progression, a former French horn player who learned all the brass, and then the strings, and found that she could play the human heart through all the instruments at once with just this baton.  She visits actors and directors, she lunches with the governing bodies of the city, and she knows the major lift, the flattened fifth, the fluttering triplets of flutes as the credits roll while the athlete sits through them on his sofa, his chicken and rice half finished, the lining of his soul a tattered mess inside of his trap-tight musculature as the movie ends with the beautiful symphonic soundtrack making him want that love.  To live in that village of mountain air and knotty craftsmanship and comfort without track of money or complexity, without paper, and without time.  No credits roll for the people in the house.  No bills arrive.  And the body’s pain  which cannot be translated into film is the only pain he wants to feel, the pain he wants to share with someone who will touch the muscle and through it the condensed light the old alchemists used to call electrical fluid, the charge of contraction and fibrillation and axons blasting in ecstatic chorus.

    On the field, the routines take over.  There are moments of bliss, of trance, of transcendent suffering through which he puts every striated fiber as the clap of flags and the metallic clink of their rigging and the hot silver brand of bleachers slide by him and his legs cover the synthetic red track, the careful attention to joints that should never suffer, the nerve-shot alarms of a chance lost or a season interrupted or a life changed.  The javelin flies.  The tape breaks.  The long pole bends beneath his momentum and weight and his chalked hands hold on against the laws of motion designed to send him forward as he climbs up, the sky above something like the bright blue of him inside when this is happening, before the twilight of the shower and then the falling blackness in him as the key turns in the front door, the smell of his kitchen and the coal of him smoldering on until sleep.  The loneliness perfected.

    In sleep his body tells its story.  An ache that wakes him.  A strand of complaint from a ligament, from a deltoid after putting the shot twenty times.  In sleep he spins in the dusty circle, spins until he occupies another body, and when he is awake and wants to dream he watches other lives and occupies them, searching for his mated soul, his invisible half of Janus, the love he wants.  The hollow in him makes him light, and his deepening grief makes him fast as he runs not toward the end but away from the beginning.  They say he is best out of the blocks.  Behind him is nothing, and there comes again the bright blue light inside, the sky opened to him as he clears the bar and reaches his hands toward it, trying to hold on when his back thumps down into the wedge of mat that gives beneath his elliptical muscles and that he sometimes wishes was not there, only so that he could fall forever, his hands out until the light in him and the sky above might meet in his grasp, and he would know the blessing of completion.  The romantic, he thinks, falls farther.  In the locker room one keeps this to oneself.  He showers, the sharp smells of sweat and colognes, the steam of release and the creeping dread as the locker smacks shut with a metallic crunch, the long hallway with its exposed bulbs, the crash door opening to a view of the mill, the plume of steam from its stack, the river below blocked from sight by terraces of houses and trees.

    He fears only recovery or rehabilitation; the only nurture he knows is physical healing and focused response—freezing tubs of water, a bright white room and suction cups on his skin and a treadmill under his feet, the weight of a kitten enough to make him wince and sweat to push the machine forward as all he becomes is calcium and nerve endings.  He sings when he is hurting.  He hums.  The songs are from the movies, from the moment when he knows it will ache to watch alone, to heat another meal, to imagine a world without guns and stupidity, without a car chase or a spaceship.  To watch people fall into a love that exists only somewhere unreachable.  He takes an instant with the remote in his hand to reconsider, not to do this to himself, but he has to have this, like a cutter, like a drinker, and he listens to the studio congratulate itself with the opening overture and the roaring lion, and then there is a car on the highway, or the panorama unfolding, and the strings, and the horns, and she waves the baton over them all and they respond like the parts of a man that know how to respond.

    She will walk home through the city of paper and watch the tall cranes adding glass windows, glass walls, progress to the next millennium.  She walks through its dirt and beauty, the height and corners and its guts laid open in some places of reek and fluid that make it live as much as the rosin-scented hardwood and carpet and drape of the grand hall.  Alive like a body.  She will carry her leather case of charts under her arm and her baton case in her bag, perhaps her violin on her back snug against the warmth of her long wool coat.  The paper walls of the houses at the edge of downtown in the little bohemian neighborhood whisper the wind off themselves, clear her mind, and the flapping shingles of the roofs tap cadences with her heels on the cobbles to her clean apartment with plants and animals happy to see her, an able life, a tasteful and sensual room with tailored clothes on cedar hangers, a stone bath, a good gin and a new lime.  She sleeps wearing nothing, sexual without sex, knowing that it is always there, the possibility of touch, and while across town the athlete takes two white pills and hums and cracks his back in three places before sleeping sitting up, she sings a partita over and over, working it happily and efficiently in her mind, pale and natural above the sheets, one of the cats taking a bath in the bay window, one of the dogs sighing with joy on his great round bed.  She pulls the sheet over her middle and reaches down, recalls the waitress from lunch today with beautiful breasts, pictures a man on television in the trials who chalked his hands by the pole vault track and looked briefly past the camera, his lower lip and the muscles in his neck, his thick hair.  But mainly something in his eyes, the concentration, the complete absorption in that moment.  She shudders.

    Will they find each other, you wonder.  Will the movie play out to the final notes?  The athlete might win a medal, or simply retire well, his happiness being found in the days of breathtaking speed, in the power of what a frame holding only muscle once accomplished.  He will walk down streets and draw the gaze of hundreds of men and women who see him as an image from the screen, from the paper shadows of shapes they want to feel and know and that they hope will become a person they will know, and he will know that they see him and wait for that moment, that song.  He will pass by the symphony hall, thinking and not listening.

    She will watch him on television the next night, his eyes lifted from his stance in the blocks, riveted on something over her shoulder, and she will be the one to marvel not merely at his form but at his will, the force of his mind that pierces the veil so few can and so shapes his form itself into that grace that slices air, that leaves the ground.  She will see his face, a spoon of yogurt suspended before her mouth, in a close-up after the run, in the fatigue trance and afterglow of his brand of loving, and she will feel herself alive down there and wanting to meet this man who has transported himself as she does with her eyes closed and the instruments coalescing like rain softly from a summer cloud in graceful response to the music of her mind, the rhythm of her body conjuring the notes of twenty staves.

    In the movie each will finally buy a ticket to the other’s theater and then speak in poetic tears from airplanes.  But will they find each other here?  Isn’t that what they have been asking through this whole story?  Isn’t that what they will always wonder, these lovers made of paper before you that make you wonder too, in pain or in happiness, until the day when it should occur because of nothing physical they can do, but only because of the natural shapes of their souls happening together by chance, a moment that might never come until which life is called something else, some word that cannot quite embrace the longing. And there is the sky above the bar that he clears, and above the baton that she waves in the amphitheater of the city park, and the horns play, and the credits roll, and we wait and don’t want to leave.

Kip Robisch currently teaches English at University High School, a college preparatory school in Indiana. His book, Wolves and the Wolf Myth in American Literature, was published in May of 2009.

Back to Freight Stories No. 6


Kip Robisch

Body and Soul