Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Final scene of my accursed novel

In late August, Clark didn't show up for the departmental meeting. Or the first day of class. Harry scrambled to fill a couple of Clark's classes temporarily, but had to cancel his senior seminar. The telephone offered only the knowledge that Clark had either moved or not paid his bill. The post office was no help either. Finding Clark became almost an obsesson. He tried to contact the local U-Haul company, but they had only Clark's old address. If Clark had a new phone, it was unlisted, if he was still in town at all.

The utility company claimed their records were confidential. Harry ran ads in the newspaper personals urging Clark to contact them. He contacted all of Clark's next-of-kin listed in his file. They had received postcards reassuring them that Clark was ok, but no information about where he was or what he was doing. His mother and father knew only that he'd had the summer off and was working on a book.

One of Clark's former teaching assistants spotted him getting on a bus one day. She called after him, but Clark didn't respond. Knowing how much Harry wanted to find Clark, she began riding that bus for several days until she finally spotted Clark coming out of his apartment building. She pulled the cord and jumped of the bus as wuickly as possible, but once again, lost track of Clark before she could catch up to him. She wrote down the address and took it back to Harry's office.

Harry stopped by the building several times, but it was a security building with a locked front door. He wasn't able to get in to knock on Clark's door directly, and Clark never answered the doorbell. Harry spent a half an hour to an hour each day parked in Clark's block, but never managed to find him. He varied the times of day he drove by, but it never seemed to matter. Finally, Harry saw someone entering the building with several small boxes in either hand and under her arms. He got out of his car and ran in the front door before it had shut behind her.

Maureen stood at the public phone in the McDonald's outside of Milwaukee. She pulled out her phone card and began punching in the access code that was probably more elaborate than the one needed to detonate an atomic bomb. She tapped her foot while the phone rang. There was on off-key beep and the automated operator came on. I'm sorry, the number you have reached is no longer in service. Please hang up and dial again, or call your operator for assistance. Maureen checked the number and tried again, muttering one more time about having to punch in 27 digits to make a phone call. When she heard the same beep, she did not wait around for the operator's instructions. She picked up her bag and got back on the bus.

The woman turned out to be Clark's landlady, and she informed Harry that Clark had called her last night. He said that he was out of town and wouldn't be coming back.

The landlady invited Harry to come in and look around, as she was going to have to clean the apartment and pack up Clark's things.

When they walked in, the found the bed made with a few empty hangers lying on top of it. On the kitchen table was a shoe box with Clark's manuscript and next to that was a letter from Maureen. Harry scanned it, trying to focus only on information about where Clark had gone. He found no concrete information, only vague references and congratulations on Clark's new resolve and new life. Maureen was proud of Clark for finally putting his convictions into practice, whatever that meant. Maybe they'd run into each other along the way, the card said..

The most cluttered part of the apartment was the refrigerator door. It was covered with brochures and clippings from leftist tabloids and newspapers. The People. Love and Rage. In These Times. Pamphlets from the Peace corps. Native American support project. Many of them had portions that had been cut out, apparently signing up for something or requesting more information. There was one small clipping--a classified ad that still carried a red ink semi-circle along its torn edges.

Tired of trying to change the system from within?
Don't leave it to the politicians and the U.N. Be a
part of people's revolutions around the world.
Really 'be all that you can be' in South or Central
America, Eastern Europe, etc. 736-9414.

There was another circled ad for a Kibbutz in Israel. And a postcard from Maureen of a commune in Oregon she had spent a weekend at. Harry began removing items from the refrigerator and putting them in his suitcoat pocket.

Harry sighed. "The sonofabitch. What the hell is he thinking . . . ?" The landlady shrugged and continued folding clothes into boxes. Harry thanked her and walked down the stairs and out to his car muttering "I guess I'll be doing more teaching than I thought this semester."

Harry looked up from his book and started when he saw Maureen standing in front of him. Her t-shirt was grungy, not having been changed in several days, and she had with her the backpack which had all of her belonging in it.

"Maureen, I thought you'd left."

"Well, now I'm back."

"I see that." Harry paused nervously and leaned forward. "What can I do for you, Maureen?"

"Where's Clark?"

"What's the matter? Are you . . . in trouble? Is that why you came back?"

"What the hell are you talking about, Harry?"

"I'm sorry. Have a seat, Maureen." Harry gestured to the chair in front of his desk, usually reserved for prospective new students or advisees coming in to discuss scheduling or changes to their major. Maureen set her bag down on the floor and dropped into the chair."

"I'm very tired and I came a long way to see Clark. Do you know where he is? He's not on any of the class schedules and none of your secretary toadies out there will tell me anything. Who's that living in the house? Did you fire Clark? Was he killed by right-wing terrorists? What do you know about this, Harry?" Exhausted,

Maureen started to cry. She sat straight up in front of Harry as tears ran impassively down her cheeks. There was no great love loss between these two, but Harry felt bad for the young woman.

"Did Clark leave you . . . in trouble? Is there anything you need, Maureen?" Harry started to get up and come around the desk. Maureen stuck her hand up like a traffic cop and motioned for him to stay where he was.

"Why won't you just tell me straight, Harry? Everything's fine. I just want to come home."

Harry grimmaced. "Then I think you should go home. Go back to your parents, and get on with your life."

“This IS my life, Harry. I know you never liked the idea, but Clark and I have been together for four years. There is no other life to “get on with.” Is he avoiding me? Did he tell you . . ." Maureen started to cry a little harder. Harry passed her a tissue over the desk.

"No. Maybe. Maureen, Clark is avoiding everyone. He's gone."

"What do you mean?"

"He just left. He took a sabbatical and that's the last I ever saw of him." Harry paused, remembering the stake-outs from his car window. "Here. That's the last I ever saw of him here."

"Do you know where he is?" Maureen sniffled and wiped her nose with the folded up tissue.

"No, but I know where he was."

Maureen nodded. She picked up her bag and stood up. "Show me."

Harry called one of the other professors and asked him to cover his afternoon classes, classes that were originally Clark's. He explained that an emergency had come up and escorted Maureen to his car in the faculty lot. There was an awkward silence on the way, and during the trip to Clark's small apartment, Maureen leaned silently against the car window. She watched the landscape of the university turn to dorms and apartments, and then through the nicer neighborhoods, where the professors lived, big old houses with porches and siding, some with manicured looking lawns. Past campustown, they got into what Maureen considered the funkier neighborhood, where the radicals and artists lived. She sighed. She wanted to go home. Mo and Harry drove past the street she and Clark had lived on and she was momentarily disoriented not to be turning the corner. They had driven this exact route together so many times over the past three years. Maureen picked her head up from the window and turned toward the block their house was on, looking for signs or clues.

"He finished his book," Harry interrupted.

"Really." Maureen shifted her body and turned toward Harry. "Is it any good?"

"I only read parts of it."

"Where is it?'

"I left it there. In the apartment."

"Apartment?" Maureen repeated. Then she became annoyed. "How could you do that? Just leave his manuscript behind like it was nothing. Do you know hard he worked on that? Do you think his landlady is going to save that?"

She turned back toward the window, picturing Clark in a dingy little apartment, with his PC at the kitchen table, up writing all night. She remembered how he used to pace the floor while he was working on an article and would run back to the desk whenever something struck him. Then he would write for a few minutes or an hour, as long as it took to exhaust that thought. He then stood up and paced, reading outloud what he had just written and making notes.

"Well, he obviously wasn't too concerned about it. Why should I be? Besides, his rent is paid up through this month, she told me. I just stopped in myself last week. I was trying to think of who to call. To come get everything."

"Then it's a good thing I showed up, isn't it?"

Maureen and Harry were silent on the rest of the drive. Gradually, the neighborhoods became a little more run down. The buildings were older and the streets were in greater disrepair. Still, Maureen liked the building that Harry stopped in front of. There was a large old elm tree in the front yard that gave a lot of shade. The buidling was square, almost modular looking. Maureen smiled thinking that in its day, probably the late 60s or early 70s, it was probably considered quite hip. She and Harry walked down three or four steps, to a sub-ground floor apartment whose windows appeared just at the level of the lawn, which was green, but not lush like the professors' homes.

Maureen peeked in the small square window of the front door and Harry took out his keys. Mo looked at him surprised. "The landlady gave me these. So I could clean everything out."

"I'll take it." Maureen held out her hand. "You can go. I'll take it from here."
Harry looked at Maureen, hesitating to give her the key. "I don't know, Maureen. Is that . . ."

But Maureen's face was determined looking. She continued to hold her hand out as she held Harry's gaze. "Just give me the key, Harry, and go back to class."

Harry was frozen. Maureen became more adamant. "HARRY! Give . . . me . . . the . . . key." Startled, he began to fumble with his keychain and Maureen softened her tone. "Let me say goodbye. By myself. Ok?"

Harry nodded and took the key off the chain. "I promised the landlady . . . do you . . . ? Do you know his family very well?"

"Harry," Maureen took the key and touched him on the shoulder, "I'll take care of it."


Mo waited until Harry's car had pulled completely out of sight before unlocking the door. It reminded her of her first student apartment. The kitchen table had thin brass legs and a cover like a plastic picnic table cloth, with faded yellow flowers, and three chairs that matched exactly. The oven was white with black knobs, the clunky round knobs that told her that the stove was probably brand new when the apartment was built. The refrigerator seemed somewhat newer, maybe only ten years old rather than twenty-five. When Maureen opened it to find it completely empty and spotlessly clean, she smiled, hoping that Clark had given any leftover food to a shelter or street person rather than throwing it out.

She sat down at the table and looked at the box that held the culmination of Clark's work since before she had known him. Down at the other end of the room there was a sofa bed folded out and neatly made up. She took the manuscript over to the bed and lay down on her stomach, flipping the pages over in front of her. Reading Clark's prose, the way his mind worked, making connections that other people might not notice, she was transported back to his classroom, back to the chalkboard dream in the bus station. She could hear his voice as she read every sentence. Tears fell onto the pages and she set them down carefully so that they would dry without ruining the ink and causing his words to be lost. Six months of assumptions rolled up into a heavy ball in her stomach. How could he not be there, tenure-seeker that he was, building a career and life she could come home to. She closed her eyes tight, trying to bring his face into her memory, but each time as she thought she had it, he faded again, leaving only the sound of scratching chalk, as she drifted to sleep, her arms around the thick stack of papers.

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