by Lord Malinov
It was a Saturday in November; the days were cold and the nights had grown long. My wife, Alena, had left town to help her sister with her kids when a newborn upset their routines. Normally, I would have gone with her but no one believed I would be any help in the chaos, certain it was more likely that I would just be another burden to shoulder. I didn’t mind. A little time to myself seemed like just the thing to help me find my groove again. I was feeling lost, directionless, just a little depressed. Life had grown too dull for my taste.
I hardly noticed Alena’s absence for the first few days. I had plenty of work to do and enjoyed the chance to eat a sandwich in front of the telly with no one reminding me to watch the crumbs. I had some beers, watched some racy videos and enjoyed my pseudo-bachelorhood by being a typical male slob. It didn’t seem like much but it made me feel a little better. Work kept me busy, normal, same as it ever was.
I spent Saturday a bit lost, tooling around the house with nothing to do and no reason to find something. I explored my inner laziness, fell asleep on the sofa while a game trudged along, spilling beer on my shorts and eventually feeling no better than usual. I gave Alena a call and could feel the busy she was living spill across the phone line. I let her go, glad I wasn’t there but missing her entirely. Married life may have grown dull but single life was measurably worse. I was never cut out to be alone.
Saturday night drove the point home. I didn’t feel like going out; there was no where I wanted to go and no one to do it with. I certainly didn’t want to waste my time taking a shower and dressing up. I poured myself a stiff drink and took a tour of the television’s entertainment but despite the fifty-seven channels, there was nothing on but brainless comedy, meaningless excitement and music driven tensions. A few slow motion bikinis only made me lonelier and I switched off the tube.
Sitting down at my computer, I mindlessly began playing a game I learned in the nineties called surfing the web. I started with a curious search and began following links to see where they would take me. Jokes led to weird facts led to conspiracy and absurdity and tools that seemed unlikely to perform any useful tasks. Somewhere along the flow, I caught a wave that led back into my past, my high school and old buddies. Then I found Patrick’s site and my whole life changed forever.
I’ve known Patrick forever. I met him at my first job when I was fifteen. He has always been a weirdo, a freak, a non-conforming personality that screamed artist. He dressed strangely, attended shows no one had ever heard of, read books with provocative titles, listened to music that annoyed as much as tempted, gave speeches, wrote stories, sang arias. I was generally uncomfortable hanging out with Patrick in public but in private, I liked him. He had insights, ideas, perspectives that challenged me and drew me in. He told fascinating stories about strange and glorious people. He had me mesmerized.
When high school ended, he wasn’t around much and eventually he left town to pursue some wild idea on a distant coast. I still heard about his adventures from mutual friends and they never failed to amaze me. I doubted the truth of most of the tales but I loved them anyway. He became a great way to start a conversation. “Patrick says …”
For all our time together, for all the pleasure I derived from seeing Patrick, from hearing of him and repeating gossip about him, I had never paid any attention to his artwork, really never gave it a thought. Finding his website in a random surfing expedition was a powerful revelation. The page I found was fascinating even before I knew it was his. At the bottom of the page, having loved the piece, I discovered a small but poignant image of Patrick’s ever-smiling face. Memories flooded my tired mind and I felt energized, excited and eager to explore this new treasure-trove of experience. I missed my strange friend. Now I would be able to immerse myself in his oddity.
First there were pictures and paintings and bizarre little videos that seemed fresh, new and yet every bit the Patrick I had known when we were young. I could hear his voice as he explained the absurd twists that leapt from my screen. I saw him in Thailand and Ghana and Chile and Alaska. He climbed mountains, dove for pearls and tunneled into gold mines. Nothing was ever boring for Patrick. I began to envy his life, to question my own in stronger ways than I’d dared before. What was I doing here? Why wasn’t I alive?
Then I found his stories. Some of them were cute little vignettes about angst-ridden individuals pacing their way through simple troubles to find new aspects of themselves in the pain-ridden solutions. He knew how to frame a conflict and bring it to a resolution. His prose sang with a delicate poetry that always had me feeling, even in the midst of banality. This was a Patrick I had never known. He had obviously matured into his artistry. Gone was the spastic energy that never focused. Patrick was good. He was an artist of the first caliber.
I couldn’t help myself; I couldn’t stop. I read through his stories one by one, delighting in every ending, relishing every new beginning. I travelled the world and delved into emotions. The stories ran like a flooded river into my consciousness.
I wanted to tell someone, anyone, what I had found. I considered calling Patrick. I thought about calling Alena. Instead, I kept reading. I’d tell everyone soon enough. There was still more to read.
It was already getting late when I started the thirty-fifth story in his collection. The alcohol was starting to wear on me, combined with the strained focus of too much reading, and I was starting to lean toward bed, despite my continuing interest in exploring Patrick’s world of words. The story was about a young Patrick and a girl he met at the mall.
The names were changed but I recognized her. I even recognized myself as one of the minor characters he used to swell a scene. Patrick told a beautiful, heart-rending story about meeting Kathy, dating her and the misfortune that led to her demise. I cried hard when he finished, wholly and horribly reliving a terrible moment in our distant past. God, he is good. I had been there with them, beside them through it all and yet I learned something about the episode and more importantly, I learned things about myself.
At this part of his portfolio of stories, I found lots of stories dealing with the days when I knew him. Every one was a marvelous recasting of my own memories and I loved every word. He described our lives perfectly, painted every person we knew in exquisite detail, made me know them all over again.
Then I reached the forty-fourth story. It told a tale from our youth but I wasn’t part of the story. I’d spent a month in Colorado, exploring the mountains in late summer. I guess that was when Patrick knew Alena. I didn’t know he knew her. I certainly didn’t know that she knew him.
The story was beautiful and sexy, endearing and naughty, seductive and introspective. They had an exciting, brief and doomed relationship, if the story was to be believed. Since I had never heard the story before, I had no idea of it was true. I didn’t doubt he knew Alena; there were details in the description that precluded any other conclusion. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell. Maybe he made the whole thing up.
I had known Alena in high school, at least, I had known of her, knew her name. We shared some classes together but never once had we spoken to each other. It was seven years later that we met again and started dating. I knew Patrick at the time but he went to a different school. Alena never worked at the mall when we did.
According to the story, they met at a party, a college kegger. Electricity sparked between them and they went on a torrid bender together, party to bed to party to concert to party to bed and back again. It didn’t sound like the Alena I knew. We had shared a few wild times, when we first met, but since then she has been almost stuffy, serious, organized and up-tight. I love Alena; she’s a beautiful and loving woman. But she’d never told me any stories of being a crazy cock-sucking party slut. I didn’t believe it was true.
I hardly read the rest of his stories. I’d open the page and cruise through the prose, searching for hints of her in other stories. The time and location abruptly changed and we were nowhere to be found in the plots and denouements. Weariness clouded over me; my back stiffened with the sitting and I was ready to give in to my need for sleep.
Then I noticed a link labeled “VIDEOS” and my energy flared up again. They were weird and strange and erotic, just like Patrick. Some seemed like music videos and others came across as poetry videos, like a music video except with less music and more poetry. Between thirty seconds and four minutes in length, I cruised through them.
Near the bottom of the small collection, I saw a video labeled “ALENA” and my heart stopped, my breath stopped, my mind stopped and my finger clicked. I froze and waited as the icon revolved for a brief moment.
An image of my wife came alive. No more than twenty-two, she sat smiling naked on a sofa, picked up a big bong and took a hit. She held it hard, her young breasts jiggling with the tension and suddenly released a huge cloud of thick white smoke, shrouding her nakedness for a few seconds and then laughing hysterically as a voice in the background kept repeating her name. She ignored the call and laid down on the sofa in a fit of laughter, her creamy bottom twisting into view. Lying on her stomach, she suddenly looked over and screamed “What?”
I was blown away, dazzled, aroused and disturbed. This is not my beautiful house. I knew that irritated voice, the cry of troubled annoyance, the perfect rendition of the woman I loved and lived with yelling “What?” But I didn’t know the stoned naked nymph rolling around on a sofa. I didn’t know the immodest, playful woman who took big bong hits while a video camera rolled. I didn’t know Alena at all.
The next video was pornographic. Alena naked between two large erections. She kissed and sucked and laughed and squealed. I stared and stared and then I came in my pants without ever once touching myself. I didn’t know the stoned naked girl. I didn’t know Alena at all.
I don’t know if I ever went to bed. I don’t remember going to sleep. I kept on, reading, rereading, watching, rewatching. I don’t think I moved from the chair for two days. I was trying to process this lost past, trying to reintegrate my wife with this erotic video kitten. I wasn’t jealous or mad or judging or serious. I was confused. I didn’t know where I was and I certainly didn’t know where I was going.
All I knew is that things would be different. Alena and I would have to talk. As much as I loved my wife, I loved her more. She was more than I had known, more than I imagined. I wanted to know this person, the one she had become, owning her passion again. If only she would let me. I bought a video camera and a big old bong. I’d give Patrick a call when I had a story to tell.