Remembering Looking Out at an Unmade Leap

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The Christmas of that year we spent in a house in a village with views through trees to the windmills, and beyond an open prospect of sea. The roads were empty and the houses too but shielded by evergreens, which made movement easy. There were many bare branches which tossed at the skies, and a weeping beech. Hannah had friends here and parents in the house so that was safe. We would go out at night to the beach where the sand was cold and locked with footprints from before the frost. The wind was strong but riderless and the ground tight and the air too gone with winter for anything more than stars. Once we went to watch the sun set off Montauk. Then there was light from the moon and inland electric fairies stippled the sails of windmills. In town it was a festive season.


So Grandma Flack was born on Christmas Day, but is too Jewish to believe that that is why she has lived so long or that she is being preserved for some Second Coming. She maintains rather that longevity is to do with the early demise of a husband and subsequent abstention from sex. The significance here is one of health not of morals, as her own moral scorecard is more than mottled by compulsive gambling up to and some suspect beyond her confinement to a bed in the East Bay Nursing Home. She remains game at one hundred and one, knocks back a chocolate drop and shows the company her rings. Howzabout a hand on that one Grandma? all manage not to ask. I am here to be presented as Hannah’s friend which it is thought will please the old girl and maybe does, but you know that pokered inscrutability of older ladies …. Karen still (still!) isn’t married but subvents the argument that Raymond the dog is the handsomest male she knows. I can see Grandma Flack’s mind here she wants them all married and widowed quicksharp. Ho-hum I speculate. She then sings a song of her own composition: Lucky in Love — I’m no good with the games but I’ve a hand for the dames … it’s a good little tune. When the party’s over and it’s time to leave we’re singing it all down the corridors to wackoids and veggies on either side — the whole company this is, cutting out rhythm with our plastic cake-forks. Yes I’m lucky — so lucky — in love. It’s just so swoony they damn near fall out their wheelchairs clapping and Raymond old Raymond he howls with the pack. Grandma Flack remains seated in state, happy as a clementine.


Raymond gets treats around Christmas; he understands that a large pack gathering means good hunting and so an excellent meal. Something like a hamburger patty he will eat delightedly and then lumber about with a slow submissive glow. He is Love Satisfied. But if he is given something too incredible, something altogether too mind-blowingly beyond dry meal pellets, like perhaps a peppercorn steak, or a fillet of wild salmon, he suffers delusions of kingship. He will eat it, then strut about in absolute command and piss all over the house. This means the crate, analogous to jail, for two to six hours, where he gets very penitent. Long before parole he will have confessed to himself and to any who care to stop by that he was wrong about that king idea.


the United States of America ends in the east in a rubble of wan hills and decapitated bluffs and a stony collar of their own wrecked past and it’s called Park Hero because out here even the sunset has something to prove and Christ you only have to look at it Hannah it goes down like an overpaid actress calling for makeup only it’s even more ridiculous more like a prostitute dying into the arms of Bohemia or rather the like the opera written for her in lipstick by precious but mediocre nineteen year-olds in the light of their electric faux-candles and Christ look doesn’t the sun go down shrill in its huge rouge tragedy and even the clouds outdid themselves this afternoon Mother I swear I thought they were about to throw themselves into the sea they looked so burnt and sad well what is it in us makes every age seem so ripe for an apolcalypse and all the people in it such stuck colloids of guilt and grief and sin and haven’t we maybe some kind of rarefied quantum consciousness of how all our existence is lived out while falling into a giant black hole at the centre of the galaxy or maybe better still they say now actually accelerating away ever faster into more and more isolated zones of space and it seems that in the end we won’t all come together in some gross ash-pit at the bottom of the universe well that’s alright there’s time for one last cigarette before the lights go out and another look at that ocean and there you see it happening the change which shocked you so that first night when you broke out running from between two hedges and suddenly landfulness vanished from about your shoulders and the ocean looked like death just black and cold and very very heavy with stinging winds and the blood draws back all away to the bones and you were frightened then because you couldn’t understand where all your splendid blue had gone but here it is, leaving, up at Montauk sunset at the change from day to night where froth turns mauve and cold mean and the heads of waves are caulked in tar and when death comes this time it’s no longer a character but just a blunt occurrance among people you don’t know so you look at your girlfriend full of Christmas rhetoric and realise what you want most is to be healed where you hurt and clothed where you are naked and to have someone put something on your tongue while telling you you are whole now and hell maybe we’ll all go get healed and be well even that parakeet who had his legs pecked off by Audrey’s Isis will rise in glory from the dust or dung or polythene bag in which he’s spent the last four years and that old bird in the East Bay Nursing home too she’ll bounce right out of bed denouncing chastity and throw her knickers at the Italian janitor who played so handsome a G harmonica at her party and is known to play out on his F# wife too while that whole crowd that congregation of kneeling devotees gathered about the hallowed bed to her one seemingly interminable life all the while all of them each eyeing death with a bargepole of their own and telling each other really they couldn’t believe how young they looked! and could Macy really be eighty three! or Audrey seventy four! or Karen steering up to sixty! no! and did you know grandma still does arithmetic and names the capital of any state you care to call her on and you can’t say that for young Marcus who seems to be taking his twos rather easy to all of us here and to you out there too I’d dare to superpose and perhaps even to her who has felt all or none of this and neither way does it matter much because you both want to go now back to the car back and find two dim windows to drink behind before this dinner at Rita’s and maybe that after all is how to get healed and be well or fixed at least or as little as find something anodyne enough to keep those old tomorrows spilling on out though the glass seems empty and your life too and your head and your soul and your sycophants a fortiori but if dinner drinks and dancing under all the stars East Hampton’s cruet of night can offer won’t feel festive to you then maybe you’ve a sickness operating somewhere the Holy Ghost can’t reach and neither way does any of it matter at all because really what it is has nothing to do with here or all that whorish sunset but is going on in a pew in an Anglican Church in your head where you shudder beside ghosts of your mother your father your sister your brother your mother your father your mother your mother who you deserted again this year and always will and if only all the guilty as they gather together for one hour once a year once again with that one wonder in their utterly lovely noodles being whether or not the pastor will tear a stripe off wide enough this time to assauge their lost Protestant thirst for suffering or if they will have to do it for themselves again and they stand there turning this question over and sucking at boiled sweets with a menthol notion of benefaction while the teeth rot right back into the brain and those innocent innocent innocent eyes just aswirl with goodness and well aren’t we all little lambs of god huddled against the storm and bleating senselessly and maybe if that pastor had something more than a slurry of watered curds and apologies for quite how fucking godless this world is then we’d all go hurl ourselves into that big black bastard of an ocean and what could be more Christmas Day than to be sent home salted, in a tin with your name on it, and the New Brunswick Cannery logo replete with seasonal singing robin, and you inside just like a little swaddled stone?


We are leaving. Hannah has gone upstairs to say goodbye to her mother. I am standing in the hallway with her father and a little time goes by. Then he speaks he says without opening his mouth do you know Adrian what they say about the Brits and the Jews and so I reply out loud no Bob what do they say about the Brits and the Jews and he tells me. He says without opening his mouth the Brits always leave without saying goodbye and the Jews are always saying goodbye but never leave. Goodbye Bob I say and stand there hoping Hannah will be a long long time.


The Hamptons, being to the very east of the continent, were among the first to be roamed and ruled at a time when the palace whence they draw their name was still rude with youth and its courts still privy to matters more politic than an exclusive game of tennis. But just as the dour industry of those Puritan settlers would bear them into annals of history far removed from royal gates, so it would carry them in ceaselessly reiterated waves across the land, with the scourge of God about their necks and a host of plagues in their blankets, until a country was amassed and Long Island left all but forgotten in their wake. And so it would stay, a pinnacle of woodlands and impecunious farmers, for almost three centuries, while fishermen tacked and gloried in its vicissitudes of rare Atlantic light. It would be these qualities, and their own radical indigence, that both drew and drove those artists who were to become the foremost practitioners of Abstract Expressionism to East Hampton. In 1945 Pollock bought a shed out here with Lee Krasner. De Kooning was soon to follow suit, and thereafter James Brooks, Roy Lichtenstein and a whole calvacade of genii capable of transforming richness of vision to power in realty: a true Renaissance alchemy for a truly Newer World. A half shed now costs a half a million. Hannah’s parents bought their property while fractions still bubbled low in the alembic and it was in witness of this process that she spent her teenage summers. To her the land is loose scripts of adolescent language and the garden, that tree, the windowcast of light upon the stair all whisper confusions at once both nascent and long gone into her adult ear. For me and most others the land belts out East Beverly Hills. Eating here at Christmas is fairly silly — I had sushi with Eli Wallach (who most famously failed to win Marilyn Monroe’s love either for his character or for life itself in her final movie The Misfits), was served hummous by an old flame of Bill Clinton (now stridently campaigning to customers and country alike for Wesley Clark), and coaxed Raymond into crapping artfully (a former fillet of wild salmon) on Martha Stewart’s lawn.


29 December 2003, East Hampton