He mentions his elephant. She laughs like a maniac. I guess he’s referring to bulbous ears on both sides of a long trunk. So comfortably secluded in their den of romping and midwinter sweat, not once do they think that I sit no more than fifteen feet away, staring at the wall between us. They unselfconsciously enjoy one another—there are groans, it sounds pretty good, much better than the music they’ve put on. I’m alone. My girlfriend quit me. Right now I could care less. There are better ways to spend time than to lose yourself in another’s body.

I listen to a Folkways recording of the Meeting of the James Joyce Society from October 23, 1951. Joseph Campbell reads and deciphers the opening to Finnegan’s Wake: “river run, past eve and adam’s . . . by a commodious vicus of recirculation.” I’ve cranked the record loud to dampen the humping in the room next to mine. Mr. Campbell sounds academically sane; he demystifies each paragraph of Joyce’s gibberish to a crowd of men who clear their throats to listen better. Each throat-clearing makes their approval known. I’m slightly aroused, especially  when Mr. Campbell gets reading a long passage. Maybe it's the horizontal ovations just a few feet away? Or maybe it’s Mr. Campbell’s matter-of-fact explanations of the 100-letter word Joyce concocted from the etymological roots of thunder to pronounce the Old Testament fall? The velocity of all this articulate matter-of-factness makes both he and Joyce seem all the more unimaginably literate, and this may affect me erotically, and possibly, in a similar way, may account for the continued throat-clearing on the record. No different than a live recording from the same period on which soul-clappers encourage a bop band to push the levitation . . . Further, I bet all this articulate matter-of-factness is also responsible for the recording’s crackling. One thing I know is that it certainly has something do with why I’m happy to sit alone in my rented room, listening to these sounds interact, staring at the groaning wall in front of me.

Joyce was upset, however, that the first shots of the Second World War got more press than the publication of Finnegan’s Wake, a work in progress for almost 17 years. “They shouldn’t be having this war,” he complained. “They should be reading my book.” More than half-a-century later, during peacetime, instead of appreciating a recording explaining commodious recirculations, Patty Dyke and her boyfriend Brendan make the elephant howl. Who are these people? She’s a currently unemployed masseuse from someplace like Wichita, living on her parent’s Platinum American Express card. Brendan, her long-haired and ridiculously tall beau, is an aspiring archaeologist, a graduate student at the University. Where's he from? He could be from anywhere. The contours of his groans are like hills originating in his toes and rolling all the way through his six-foot-six body. I imagine he’s from Iowa. Although we often see each other, Brendan and I rarely speak. She must have said something.

 Lately I’ve overhead Patty talking on the phone about how she’s been holding back urine to make her climax hotter. Go! Go! Oh God! I hear right this minute. That must be the flutter technique she described. She’s certainly pumping her puboccygeal muscles. Maybe Patty’s just adding a gentle bearing-down to her contractions to help her uterine muscles become as dexterous and as essential to an active twat as opposable thumbs to one’s palms. Patty loves sex, and I would love to have sex with her again. She is much taller than me. Maybe six two. Big, but not ungraceful. Very flexible. She told me once over a bowl of Cheerios: the joy of sex is all in the flex. She was breaking a Cheerio in half and forcing its curved pud into another’s intact O. Although we’ve only shared an apartment for a few months, Patty has often mentioned how much she enjoys sex, and, occasionally, she’ll look away as we talk and says she feels like having it. At 8:30 in the morning, we’re sharing the breakfast table, she’ll say, “I know it’s early, but I feel like having sex.” Without provocation. I’m half-asleep. Maybe she’s talking about sects. Right this minute I can hear her calling out to God, over and over again, coming damn close to the ineffable as Brendan pokes a tongue into that open mouth. But I don’t think she’s religious, and even if she were, would her spirituality inspire her to mention something like that while longingly uniting Cheerios? 

On the weekends when my ex-girlfriend babysat early in the morning and I’d wake up at home, the first thing I’d see, making my way for coffee, would be Patty Melanie Dyke on her corrugated foam mat, on her back, strengthening internal muscles, toes pointed to our country’s coasts, naughty bits eyeing the ceiling. I hate to present such a gonadocentric picture of a woman, but she’s only revealed herself to me with action that’s always been long, long legs spread welcomingly apart. How well do I know her? I don’t know her hardly at all. As I mentioned above, I think she’s from Wichita or Lincoln, Nebraska or somewhere where they speak with enthusiasm that’s possibly well-regarded in sororities, but sounds false to an always-on-guard East Coaster. I heard her on the telephone yesterday advising a girlfriend, “Push down with your lower back muscles, you’ll bring the front wall of your vagina down to meet your partner’s penis. This enables him to stimulate your G-spot, located between your pubic bone and your cervix.” I later realized she was reading from a woman’s magazine she’d left around the house. 

A few paragraphs above I said that Brendan and I rarely speak possibly because Patty may have told him something. What could that be? Well, the actions with Patty were not expected. It was not a drunken time where we got something we wanted from each other and in the morning were sober and would never go again. Instead, it was a beautiful fall morning. There was a very good chance that I wouldn’t see such a morning again until the spring. At nine I phoned my boss to tell her I was sick, went back to sleep and slept late, getting out of bed around eleven. When I finally went downstairs for coffee, Patty was on her mat, exercising, talking on a cordless phone.

“Here he comes now.” Then she put the phone down and asked if I’d like to accompany her on a walk to the canal.

“The canal?” I asked.

“There’s something I’d like to show you,” Patty said.

We walked together. I told her how the town’s sycamores were imported to feed the silkworms imported from China in the mid-1880s, and how all the silkworms, which were expected to spin tremendous fortunes of silk, died with the first frost. When we got to the path along the tree-lined canal, she led me to a private clearing. She straddled me and started kissing, lightly, sucking on my cheeks until my thighs erupted.

But now, more than six months later, I sit at my desk and stare at my bedroom wall and marvel at her lack of consideration. If we were neighbors in a bohemian warren with the souls of mangled hookers and stray gunshots and spent condoms thrilling the air, I’d do something ridiculous like sip homemade absinthe and record what I could until the inevitable forces of prosperity raised the rents and disinfected. But I’m in a town where it’s silent once the rush-hour traffic settles down to dinner. Once the sun drops, I can hear the tobacco burn when enjoying a cigarette on the porch. I can hear the effect that the flashing yellow stoplight has on the neighboring trees. I can hear the town settling. And, when just a few feet from my neighbors, when they fuck, I imagine hushed pedestrians gathering outside my apartment, remembering the joyous copulations of their past, gawking at the happenings within my home, overly aware of the distance separating themselves from their most irretrievable orgasms.

A few days ago, once I allowed myself to admit to others that I was single again, Patty stopped me on the stairs, kissed me full on the mouth, and then whispered into my lips that there was no way we would ever do what we did that morning last fall. Her kiss sealed it. So is there a moral to the story? Nope. Not at all. Or well maybe it's something about how this is a land where Liberty, once depicted as barebreasted and leading a scrappy battalion over urban ruins to victory, is now fully clothed and all alone in the water. Let her stand for the freedom of capricious sex. Let her live long. Let us all enjoy and suffer.


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