As I know everyone’s on the edge of his or her seat since yesterday to find out what happened in the rest of chapter 1 from the thirty-some years-old beginning of The Book of Seasons, we will present it to you immediately—the rest of chapter one…
The Book of Seasons
chapter one, concluded
I was that evening reclining, as I usually did, in the uncomfortable red plastic supposedly-easy chair, reading. The hotplate (I am still not sure about its legality) was boiling a can of baked beans, and I could hear the sauce just beginning to gurgle — or I was finally aware of the bubbling. Regardless, several paragraphs remained to complete the chapter, so I let the sauce burble contentedly. My window was open on the sultry evening, but the air was not moving. The enclosed mud parking area below was accessible only by an alley across the far side, and as a result few breezes were bred there to blow into my room. It was a cheerless view, back walls of tall buildings, although I had not yet seen it at its worst, as I would when the winter slushes arrived.
I was sort of sitting, between cigarettes, my coke emptied, attempting to read but actually thinking vaguely about the beans and my supper. I was considering what my students would think of the situation, typical for me, at least at that time, but not at all a common pedagogical stereotype. As a student teacher that autumn, I was supposedly learning practical aspects of my future career. However, I still felt more like a simple college senior without any pretensions to the adulthood my students tended to impose on me. My present domestic situation doubtlessly would have shattered prejudiced images for most of my pupils.
I realized suddenly that I had no idea of what had occurred in the last several paragraphs, if not pages. I had succeeded in distracting myself even from my distraction. I was just beginning the process to decide whether to conclude the chapter now or eat immediately, when, quite instantly, someone else was in the room.
The peculiar sensation when one is no longer alone dropped over me, a shroud, a straitjacket, a tightness in my back and side.
I glanced in the mirror above the dresser along the wall to my right. I saw reflected there, incredibly, a man, or the shape of a man facing the door. He seemed to be standing three full feet off the floor, hanging in midair, above the middle of the bed. And, as I looked, I was certain that I could briefly see through his form, as though, strange as it seems, he was suddenly materializing then out of, as they say, the thin air. He remained for a moment suspended somehow, became solid, and then collapsed onto the bed. As he fell he twisted himself into a semi-foetal position — or rather, as he hit, feet first, then buttocks, then his left shoulder. He wheezed loudly, the fall knocking the wind out of him, and lay still a moment.
Five seconds. That was the longest possible time, I am certain, from the moment I first felt my privacy invaded until the stranger wheezed as he landed upon my bed. As you might expect, it seemed longer to me then.
My first thought, of course, was that I had imagined the whole scene. So I turned from the mirror, on my right, to examine the bed, on my left. He was, however, lying there, trembling, shaking as though from tension caused by a great effort. A sudden wind, a single gust of air, blew against me, quite hard, only for a moment. Then the evening was as still and sultry as before, and the man was lying on my bed, curled up, shivering.
Naturally, the beans boiled over at that moment, spitting beans and sauce over the hotplate and the dresser top — bubbling beans erratically over the sides of the can, stripped of its label, and spilling sauce on the electric heating element. I reached out reflexively and turned off the switch, stood, and, fumbling with the potholder, removed the can from the burner, displacing only a few more beans. Frustratingly, I could still see the man in the mirror.
In fact, he was sitting up.
I am afraid that then, only then, it finally seeped into the crevasses of my thought that he was actually present, and I rather feared suddenly to turn around.
And then he spoke: “God damn!” Bending over to rub his ankle, he added, “Rotten miserable joints. Always going bad in the pinch.”
Suddenly my trepidation melted away.
He was an old man. I had not noticed before, but he was about seventy years old — white hair, mostly bald, scrawny. A thoroughly unprepossessing creature, particularly hunched over himself tending his ankle, the overhead light causing his hairless top to gleam.
I turned around. He noticed the movement and looked up wide-eyed. His mouth sagged open.
“What the hell?”He clapped his hands to his head, running his fingers into the remaining locks. “Oh, Christ. Can’t I do anything right?”
Our minds are unusual, operating in ways we do not understand or even clearly follow. I can set these events on paper now and in a conscious order, but at the time I really did not quite comprehend what was happening. I must have been stunned, not accepting all I had observed. I know that I was vaguely thinking that he had actually climbed in the window, rather than what I had seen in the mirror (even though the room was four floors up), reasoning that what I had seen reflected was an illusion. I was also considering that since he was so old he probably could not do me any great harm. I am not certain how I was reconciling those two notions; it must not have occurred to me then that a decrepit seventy-year-old antiquity would have exceptional difficulty clambering four stories up the hotel exterior to enter my window. Nor did I bother to realize that someone who could perform such an ascent could certainly hurt me severely.
He stared at me. He had green eyes.
I said, rather weakly, “Hi.” I smiled, also rather weakly; I don’t have a very good smile even in the best circumstances.
He looked directly at me a moment longer. Then he, too, smiled. He had a rather nice smile, one that I always imagined my own to be like but knew it was not. “Hi?” he raised his eyebrows, bushy and unkempt, in question. “I suppose it is a greeting. It’s not —” He was going to continue, but suddenly he flushed deep red, swayed as he sat at the edge of my bed, and folded over, head between his knees.
Rather stupidly, I remained, still amazed, rooted to my spot, one hand still clutching the hotpad. He was moaning. Then he straightened up, his face now drained of blood, pale, his skin like new paper, whitely translucent. Exclaiming “Oh, shit!”almost inaudibly, he collapsed backward, like a stack of freshly washed clothes falling over, onto the bed with his legs dangling over the end.
Then, at last, I moved. I went over to him. His eyes were open but glazed, apparently not seeing. As I leaned over him, however, he seemed to focus his gaze on me momentarily. Then he shuddered, his eyes rolled, and the lids drifted closed.
Barely I heard him say, “Don’t tell anyone. Please don’t — oh, crap…” And he was unconscious.
I decided that the climb up the wall had been too much for him. I hoped he would not die.
Touching his forehead with my fingertips, I noticed that he was very cold. I jerked my hand into his chest and clutched his wrist, afraid that my hopes came too late. How could I explain a corpse? However, his heart was beating, rather hard, but evenly, and his breathing was regular. I am not sure what regular breathing is exactly, but I determined that his was. It had better be, I thought inanely.
After determining that he was alive, I was a little at a loss as to what I should do. My reason and my instincts told me, most insistently, to run, screaming, hysterically if at all possible, for help. I nearly did, regardless of his last words. However, I was by then certain that he had entered through the window, somehow, from above, from next door — a million possibilities were spiraling and shooting aimlessly but furiously through my mind. Somehow he had entered through that window, though, and people who enter through windows do so for no good or upright reason. What if he had expected me to be gone, intending to steal all I owned in my absence, and finding me at home struck on this illness as a ploy to send me away for help? And while I was gone, then he would complete his larcenous intentions. And this superb subtlety of the fellow to whisper, “Don’t tell anyone,” knowing that was exactly what I should do.
To be frank, I was afraid he was simply faking. So I remained, purely selfish and possessively paranoiac.
When he did not stir for some time and remain very cold, I finally screwed my courage to the sticking place and covered him with my spare blanket in the bottom drawer of the dresser. Then I furtively ate my beans, cold at that point, while maintaining a constant watch on my intruder. He never moved; neither did he die. In fact he was a most undramatic specimen, despite his curious entrance. And that, although I was unaware of the significance of the occasion and the nature of his name, was how I first encountered Durwood Wakdjunkaga.
I do have chapters two, three and four. Is anyone interested? I had fun. It was amusing to revisit this old thing (and see how I haven’t gotten beyond some of the things I wrote then).
February ends tomorrow. I never planned to post a blog every single day, but so far I have. Strange. Sometime soon some more of Mantorville.