"Vince-! The lingering smell of his fingertips on his letters; his hair on my pillow. For years his scent was woven into my tee shirts and deep in my dreams, like a campfire I couldn’t wash out of my hair. For the longest time all I had to do was open up my box of letters and I’d sink back into that summer like I’d never left it.
Not that he knew. I ducked my head away, trying to hide my smile. It was the big goofy one I always got around him, the one that made me look like a cartoon character, all gap-teeth and freckles, and if my fiance ever saw it, he’d never let me live it down.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh, it’s just…” I could almost smell the pine needles, as cold and crisp as champagne.
“It’s good to see you too, Temple,” Vince said. He had this way of looking at you like he was inviting you into his secret world. Those transparent grey-blue eyes. I could almost imagine all the cold rivers inside him had only ever waited for my reflection; that all his shady lanes had paused all this time, waiting for me.
That he needed me, in order to complete his own wandering way.
But kingdoms come, kingdoms go. The truth was, the rivers and lanes of V hadn’t waited any more than mine had. We’d drifted apart, as even continents eventually do,
and the truth was I didn’t even think of him that often... "
-from Savages. for you.
July 4th, 2015.
Blue sky & sea, the flag snapping in the wood on a bamboo pole, all the boats lashed together, everybody swinging champagne. We're scrambling together up onto the prow, my sister and I, and my Christopher: a fabulous day, the end to a long, wild, lunatic weekend.
"You girls, man, I never met anybody vibing so hard, I love it," a sweet boy says to her, sitting down, and we all smile up at the sun-
Too much work, and then too much play-
I've been playing phone & email tag for days with my agent (still such a thrill to say that, my agent!!) and then a note from her as we're headed back to harbor:
I think it's time to begin submitting. I could nit-pick endlessly about this and that, but the bottom line is that you've answered beautifully my main problem with the ms: bringing Faye into the story in a more substantial way and explaining why Ada goes looking for her (and something I don't think I had asked you about which was does poor Jupiter ever get away from her horrible father). It feels much more fully developed now and satisfyingly ended.
Anyway, I'm literally going to be wearing my phone around my neck for the rest of the day, so please call me when you get a minute!
I've been waiting for 'go' since I turned in my revisions after my NOEPE residency on MV- checking my email so reflexively that I'm not always aware what I'm even looking for- so when her note jumped up at me I lost my shit. I'm jumping up and down squealing, so happy I couldn't even talk or breathe. "Did you sell your book?" one of the bikini goddesses says.
"No, oh gosh, that's still so far away, it's just going off to the editors now," I say, still manic with happiness. "But she likes my revisions."
Sometimes, amazingly, I forget how much I care.
Maybe you are wondering what a solar dancing flower is? It was me, all the way home.
I've got 200 pp on Savages now, going to put to the side again, make one last final pass on EL incorporating suggestions I've been given. I can keep fiddling with the thing while we submit, and will surely be asked to revise many times more. (Editors, publishers, publisher's editors.) But still- the train lurches forwards.
Andrew on the phone with his dad last night, grinning at me: "Paula's book is moving forward- so we're now at the third circle of anxiety hell-"
Six more to go...
Meanwhile, we hermit up, eyes on the prize.
July 6th, 2015.
Nine months since James died. My mom planted a crepe myrtle for him in the backyard, where they used to sit and watch the cardinals.
Here there are myrtle trees everywhere, and when I see them I will think of him.
I haven't posted the following journal entry yet-
Myrtle trees, candle flames. Nothing is lost. I want to believe that.
June 20th, 2015.
I think of my neighbor in the AME church, of her last hour, and how she must have worried so for those she knew she was leaving behind. I’m with Andrew and his parents- they're visiting- we're all at his warehouse, helping pack boxes, but I can’t stop thinking about it. The screaming and praying, the blood. Because of an unthinking hate-
I think of my own mother in a church, worried for her lost son. “Try not to think about it,” Loreta, Andrew's mother, says.
But later that day I post an ad on craigslist for Andrew, helping him to find warehouse help- and then I’m going through resumes, and of course you can recognize the lost ones. And I think of James, I think of him flailing. Trying with all his heart, but unable to surface.
I was at NOEPE on the six month anniversary of James' death, and while I was there I began to fixate on the possibility of there being pictures of the scene. Were there photographs taken? If there were, I wanted to know that they were destroyed, and if not, when they would be. I called the courthouse, got passed around, and it was so much harder than I expected to ask this question that, after being rerouted three times, I stopped for a while. I did not tell anyone.
But now I needed to know, I needed to do one last thing for him, needed to make sure he was safe.
Next day, Andrew ran to the grocery for eggs; his parents were coming over for breakfast. I ducked into the bedroom and called the last number they'd given me, back in April. I asked the questions in a voice that, all too suddenly, wasn’t mine. It was eggshell and blood and unanswerable grief.
But the voice on the other side, sweet ghost, was kind. She reassured me, saying words like procedure, security, if they exist at all, not accessible to anyone, will be destroyed, etc.
So he was safe.
Then she paused. “We've lost one too,” she said, finally.
“I am so sorry.”
"Hey-" she said, "take a smile with you."
Andrew came in then, found me. Rolling out dough for dinner on the boat later, weeping into the sink. Stupid, useless. He hugged me tight, I pulled myself together, his folks came in and I took his mom on a house tour on the Battery. They told us a story about the Middleton family burying their silver during the Civil War. In the tiny bathroom I took deep breaths. There are tiny birds painted delicately on the ceiling. Beauty and horror woven together everywhere.
Guilt. My terrible guilt. I keep it lit always for you, my brother; I let it lick at my ribs, I think of your face, your voice, and everything that should have been. All the good things you deserved to experience, you in your kindness, but it was so hard for you here, and at least we can know that you are not hurting now.
There are so many things that seem to be signs from you- messages reappearing on Facebook, my phone. Pieces of you, resurfacing: the boards and lost paintings of a sunken ship, and I cannot assemble all the things that I believe.
Loreta and I wandered downtown. I bought a shirt for Andrew, a happy eclectic blue. He wore it that night on K & E’s boat, and I'd put on the skirt he bought for me in NY- “it’s a magic skirt,” he said, giving it to me, and maybe it is.
Such pleasure, such refuge, in one another. My good man. That night, he made us all huevos rancheros, and we watch Chef’s Table, the episode on Francis Mallmann. Mallmann's got some astounding ideas & methods, a philosopher cook. Taken with him, wanting more, I read a review of the episode on Eater.com:
“Yet this freedom clearly has sharp edges. Mallmann admirably advocates complete honesty but illustrates the point by slaying a former friend. "I no longer enjoy talking to you," he says. In one sequence, he speaks of cutting off one of his gaucho chefs, the closest thing he has to daily family, just at the moment they feel closest to him. One doesn't get the feeling this eviction from the nest is accompanied for a concern about how the fledgling lands.
Mallmann, as one might expect, lives an unconventional private life as well. He is not like Matisse, daring on canvas, conventional at home. He is more like Picasso, uncompromising in pursuing his vision at work and in the configurations of his menage…
As awed as I was — and am — of Mallmann's devoted hedonism, as both a father of a son and a son of a father, what sticks with me is the wide wake of hurt and chaos the headlong pursuit of freedom leaves.”
But we have the music.
Pauline West's first novel, EVENING’S LAND, is winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award and recipient of the Carol Marie Smith Memorial Scholarship for the NOEPE Center of Literary Arts.
Pauline West's books on Goodreads
Candlemoth: A Holy City Romance
ratings: 27 (avg rating 4.04)
ratings: 24 (avg rating 3.46)
Candlemoth Volume 2: How To Spend It
ratings: 10 (avg rating 4.40)
Candlemoth Book 3: A Twist of Fate
ratings: 6 (avg rating 4.17)
Stalker: A Gothic Thriller
ratings: 4 (avg rating 4.25)