The Beryl Delve, ©2017, by p. elliott doherty
A Conversation in Utah – Two Years Earlier
If I can make it there by Sunday, he thought. I won’t be dredged. I won’t be pulled off the highway. I won’t be rehabbed. This can be an invisible thing.
____Rinn was maintaining to his toenails. Toy bottle bourbon and pancakes, Walker Black dancing with wrinkled light on the shotgun seat. The box of bottles he’d unloaded into the back seat from home sloshed with assurances over every bump in the road. One leather bag stayed wedged behind his seat, filled with underwear and photographs.
____The red road climbed between the porous pine walls and turned to a veneer of rich chocolate and dying solar azimuth at the summit. What should have infused him with wonder gave way to the ancient mechanics of shock, detachment, and toxicity. He was a bug in a jar, staring through the glass, in full acceptance of the suffocation. The Gate was running the exclusive the next morning. With any conscious driving within the painted lines he would make Beryl many hours before. He didn’t care about the information—it was fact—but the fishbowl had broken, and he, the fortunate man, was writhing.
____He parked well, without dinging an object or person, and wove his feet into the summit café. The air in the restaurant breezeway reconstituted his vitals, and he ordered cold cucumber soup and iced tea. Seated cliffside before an iron patio table he paused to relax his shortened breathing. Soon the purple mass of southern horizon regained its definition, shifting from a smudge of dead earth into a mosaic of canyon tendrils and ponderosa canopy. The breeze sustained throughout, drying the clammy drunken sweat on his brow. He picked up errant voices and defaulted to his modus of social awareness. He plunged into the core of his will and decided to call this a normal afternoon.
____To his right, at the corner of the balcony, he noticed a pleasant looking woman hunched over a coffee mug, swollen from a jag of tears. His soup finished, he thoughtlessly picked up his iced tea and gently took a seat to her right and against the balcony railing. He raised a hand in peaceful entreaty and waited a beat. The woman braced and cringed at his arrival, and then narrowed her eyes over the cliff, her whites glistening with severe ironic acceptance over the new matter in her life.
____Gently he awakened her, pleading, “Tell me why you’re in pain.”
____“My husband died without me,” she said. “Long ago. Yesterday. Sometime before now is all I know.”
____“I’m very sorry.”
____Carey measured her floodgates for a beat and—looking into his genuine eyes—decided to allow the flow. “He was a passionate drunk. A deluded and beautiful romantic. He died in Colorado trying to escape his condition. His sister buried him there. I just came back from visiting the grave marker, and I’m winding my way slowly back to California. I missed the funeral out of anger, and this was the first time I visited. He…he once was every definition of my world. He was assuring, strong, keeled, and a constant font of humor, even chivalry. But when his disease slowly crept into every pore, when it assumed control of every tick and utterance, when it engulfed our home, I did the natural thing. I waited it out. I watched. I knew his disease would destroy me no matter how I tried to bridge the gap. To his credit he finally saw the death of us in my face; he screamed at me, he called me a ‘depressive witch’ and a ‘cold mute’ until, after understanding I had shut off all options, he left for Telluride,” she shrugged at Rinn. “I mean, what kind of Hollywood honkey haven is Telluride? He was, by then, too sick to keep his liquor down. He would send me postcards from the resorts, joking that he was incubating inside a cloud of medical marijuana, insisting that he could prolong his life with dietary choices and yoga, but I knew he was just squawking from the gallows. When his sister called with the news that he’d given in to death I thanked her and told her I’d be there to help with the final arrangements. I never showed. I was furious from the whole affair, some goddamned disease marches into your life and mocks you, practically shames you from every angle, and then leaves you in a void? Fuck natural existence and the god nature shoves us toward, I say, ad absurdum. Eventually I wrote his sister a letter apologizing and she invited me for a visit. I spent six hours, from mid-morning to middle afternoon, just sitting on the grass in front of his dead man’s nameplate, making any effort to exhort some grief, but none came. I’m crying here, now, because I failed to cry there, and because I failed to listen to the anguish of a dying man, someone I loved, someone I had to ignore in order to stay alive myself. I’m in pain today because for some obnoxious reason pain has a point today. It’s so rare to identify the reasons for it, but, for now, it’s real and understood.”
____“I lost my family the other day, and your voice pulled me away, just enough away, from the numbness.”
____“You’re Robert, aren’t you?”
____Robert offered a courteous grimace and nodded. “The wife and son calamity, yes. No details in the national dissemination, I hope?”
____“Nothing over the newswire pending examinations and a release, I read,” she said. “I can’t imagine your pain, Robert.”
____“I go by Rinn.”
____“I’m Carey. I’m awfully sorry. Are you okay to drive? You look…”
____“I know. And yes, I’m more than a touch drunk, but for your sake and experience, I’d like to say that you can leave me alone and I promise I won’t kill no damn body on the road.”
____“What happened, R—, Rinn? Tell me. Sober up or level off for a few minutes and tell me.” Carey knew the man would respect the bargain.
____“It’s muddy clay…and dull to specifics, and medicated, so medicated right now,” he offered. He drained his iced tea to the shavings and leaned back for a long breath. “I was in the East Bay, giving an address for the graduating class at the California College of Arts and Crafts. I told these kids to be defiant and graceful, like we were all fuckin’ Nelson Mandela or something. The Regents had given me some really cold white wine and I was yarning and riffing, convinced I was sharing some inroads for the kids, like they’re not complete individuals who’ll have timelines on the chaos spectrum. Anyway, they had an open reception on their campus grounds and the Board tooled me around the facilities. I remember kids gathering around me, grasping my hand, telling me what I did that accidentally shaped the groundwork choices in their young lives. I played off the praise like I didn’t feel it, an old trick, until the cameras came out, and then I was cradling these young things around their shoulders, and I felt it…” Rinn straightened in his chair. “They felt it, too. I was sending them off like some loving, crazy, archetypal uncle. I was no longer the figure in the bathysphere but the frank measure of support and love these kids demanded from their warm encampment. The brass kept me plied with the chilly Chardonnay and I danced with the kids, there was accordion music and goat cheese everywhere…”
____“Were you accustomed to this type of interaction?”
____“Hardly, and I think that’s what tripped me,” he confessed. “I carried this attitude with me all the way to the airport. First class window home to Seattle that night. I felt justifiably conceited, like I was attuned to dispense manna to all comers. And, of course, the guy at my elbow was an effusive lawyer from Kirkland who started running me through my checklist of defenses. Whad’he say, something like, ‘Where is your burden taking us next?’ or some such gushery. I remember mentioning something about oceans and witches and other nebulous things, to which he creamed out more nonsense. I was lit on more little plastic carafes of white, fuckin’ white, dunno why, and I was brimming with unapologetic hubris. It was intense, Carey. I don’t know how to explain it better, but, you know when you’ve deferred self satisfaction until you’ve discovered you’ve plain straight cleared the gate and then, look out, here comes haughty smuggery, well, that was my state of things on my night flight with Counselor Kirkland and his litany of suck marks. It was a rare clear descent, and I remember feeling so divinely in my place with the universe. People trusted and confided in me, I had the time to love and listen, offer my paring thoughts, and glide through the menagerie with my anointed hall pass."
____“Weren’t there other times you felt enraptured by your own career over the years?”
____Rinn smiled and searched, shaking his head. “You know, rarely,” he said. “With my family in hand and the routines between locking in a home life and integrating exotic travel plans, all that was left was the calendar of galleys and rewrites, keeping the toolkit sharpened, you know, forging anguish and rapture the same a thousand times before breakfast. And the appearances and interviews were your standard and tedious mockups of persona, empty calories that only flared with instantaneous pleasure. I mean, the college wet dream of attaining the tap at Olympus, of getting the role of the mustachioed sage, the ‘Marquis of Wetness’ as my old roommate used to call the mystique, was the end all, and I really didn’t let the role overwhelm my kinetic ego until that evening at the reception and on the plane home.”
____“It feels to me like you’re saying you weren’t prepared for much to change.”
____“And with that sentiment,” Rinn allowed himself a diaphragmatic pause, “the walls fell away.”
____“You arrived home?”
____“There was activity in the driveway. An ambulance and two black Crown Vics. All the lights were on. Guys in windbreakers were wearing rubber gloves and walking around. It was a parade of nothingness. They could’ve thrown turpentine in my eyes. This old bald man with a bushy beard sat me down in my kitchen and told me how my life had ended. He said my wife had killed herself in our bed with a helium kit by placing a hosed bag over her face and taking four deep breaths. She had expected my return that night and thought nothing of suspending our son’s welfare, but my eight year old boy, the detective told me, had experienced an asthma attack at the same time his mother was dropping out of the picture. From what they pieced together that night, and from what I could tell them about the layout of things in the house, it appeared that—while I was in the air crowing to the lawyer—my boy became gripped with the attack and discovered his inhaler was empty. He knew we always kept a backup in our nightstand for emergencies. He ran into our bedroom and found his mother under a bag, motionless. The spare canister was boxed and shrink-wrapped, and he had a choice—call 911 or get to work on the inhaler. The detective said he dialed the phone and let the line trace in quiet as he struggled. The hysteria of the event he witnessed couldn’t have helped his dexterity or his breathing. The EMTs found my son, Drew, clutching the box in one hand and his mother’s arm with the other.”
____“…” Carey grabbed his forearm.
____“It’s all right, Carey, thank you.” Rinn covered her hand with his. “It’s too early to feel anything.”
____ “Rinn, how did you make it this far? How did you drive yourself to Grand Escalante?”
____“A misfortune of luck.” He sat back and continued his deep breathing. The café continued chirping around them.
____“I’m worried about you continuing on,” she said. “You’re in no shape to be on the road. You might kill someone.”
____Rinn snapped forward. “And you might not understand this, but I’m continuing on. You can run to the hostess stand and call the State Police, and they might pull me over somewhere in forty-five to ninety-five minutes, or they may not find me, but I’m moving, I have to keep moving.”
____“Beryl. New. My old friend’s taking me on. In.”
____Carey prickled under a sheet of gooseflesh as a breeze shot through the balcony rails and up her arms and chest. “I’m calling you in,” she said. “There’s no way I can let you go like this.”
____“Please,” Rinn begged. His eyes intensified with a clarified sincerity. “Just follow me, if you can. Hang back in your car and you’ll see I can manage it. You can stay with us for a long while once we’ve arrived. It’s only a few hours south of here. Please…just follow me, instead. I like you. I’ll try as much as I can for you.”
____“I’d only watch you self-immolate in a tangled wreck.”
____They made their way to the parking lot and—after a litany of entreaties from Rinn—embarked for Beryl in a convoy of two cars. Carey would not soon forgive herself for her reckless trust of this man, and Rinn would never again cross her healthy misgivings.
The highway was merciful and empty.
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