Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The Smell of Fire - (Final Installment) Part Six
See Part One HERE
See Part Two HERE
See Part Three HERE
See Part Four HERE
See Part Five HERE
There was something so, well, unconscious, about her son, she confides. As if the spirit inside him had never truly woken up. It worried her greatly. He was drinking too much, did I know that? He was so much an outsider in that family. She said that, much the way she'd said Italian in describing her granddaughter yesterday. He was a lonely man, her boy.
She knew of the jibes of his schoolmates and his teachers too, she said. So hard on a little boy. And her eyes filled with tears. No wonder he couldn't wait to get out of school, a man who had the capacity to be an academic. Or a priest. And here she sighed and gripped my hand in both of hers a little more firmly.
I'm not asking you to wrench him away from the signorina, dear, she said, never. You are too spirited to handle him and he too dispirited to handle you. And that's the way of it.
But perhaps you can bring him a little ease? A little comfort to his days? Am I so far out of line here you think me meddling and appalling?
She didn't know it, or maybe she did. But she could have asked me anything and I would have done my best to provide it. Climb hills, ford streams: Martha, just ask.
I shook my head, no, she was no meddler, then I nodded slowly, demolishing the word “pimp” as it surfaced, unbidden, to my judgemental self .
I'll try, I said, I can try.
She didn't have to say it but I could never tell him of our meetings, for they were to gather and grow, little rewards perhaps for my attentions to her son, a cynic might say. But in many ways she was a mother/mentor - expanding upon my own personal vistas with encouragement, attention and connections.
Ian had a lot of free time, opened up substantially by his wife's regular jaunts to Las Vegas.
He would come to me after a bad fire and talk of it, talk of death or rescue, of children and animals and drunks with cigarettes burning or poor wiring and backdrafts and fire alarms and smoke detectors and axes and hoses and mighty red trucks and high to the sky ladders.
He would lay it all out before me, lying there beside me, for even after he showered, the smell of the battle would stick to his pores, drift through his hair, cling to the bed for days afterwards. He would take hours in the recounting of it all until he fell, exhausted, into a mumbling sleep.
And I'd lie there, propped up on one elbow, looking down at him as he slept, marvelling that the only passion he ever felt was in the quenching of the fires of others. And the only passion I ever felt for him was in the smell of it long after it was over.
But it has never really been over, except in the physical sense. Several years into this arrangement I met someone else and I got out of the habit of Ian while still meeting with Martha for dinner or drinks or her latest show.
And I still see her. In an artists' retirement lodge now. Near ninety she is. Alert, engaged, passionate. Teaching the fine points of her profession to any who'll have her. And many do. Wearing her signature yellow. She would not move in with her son and the signorina. It would have been signing her own death warrant and too soon, she says.
I run into him the odd time there. His seventy years looks ill at ease on him. As if he's too old for it, for he looks older than her now. He asks me about my books, my columns, my plays. He tells me as he accompanies me out to my car in the parking lot that he has never loved anyone like he loved me and I believe him.
Some would be flattered by this. But I am sad. For indeed wasn't it a poor excuse for a love affair we had?
And then I remember the smell of fire on him.
And I wonder what I missed.