The Suburbs of Memory
A cool breeze from the dormer window touched his face, his hairline, his hair with its undeniably greying front locks. They were still thick though; still needed the sure stroke of a brush every morning. He was in boxer shorts on a bed with white sheet in the long dark attic of the home his parents had willed him: a two-storied house he had grown up in, left, then returned to when the outside world fell short of its promise. A house he inhabited alone.
It was past midnight. He had just awoken from a fitful sleep on a sticky, unrestful Monday night. He could guess the time by the quiet suburban crescent below. Friday and Saturday nights were different, with younger residents driving back from parties and clubs, pulsing music and brash, sometimes ribald conversation audible above. Young men brought young women back with them, or vice versa. He remembered being less forward with the opposite sex at that age. Besides, his parents had been a bit strict.
Now, in bed on a silent night years after their demise, he felt a subtle, palpable shift in the room’s ambience, its dimensions. Maybe it was the heat; maybe it was being alone so often in the wee hours, but this very familiar space felt suddenly alien. He looked beyond his bed to the shadow under the ceiling’s sloping boards just above the squat wicker chair, there since forever, abutting the plank wall: a deep shade holding a previously unsuspected life of its own.
He was not alone. A piece of his past had chosen to re-emerge within that darkness at the foot of his bed. He could discern it now, an opaque form hunched forward on the chair: humanoid, motionless. Then it spoke, distinctly, within the silence of the house, the hour, and the quiet crescent outside.
“You haven’t changed that much.” The ageless male voice had no accent. A car drove by below, smoothly turning the crescent.
His weight on one elbow, his skin hot, he had no reply, only a memory of where that voice came from: his youth, with its promise of adventure bearing reward, a yield that had somehow proved elusive, his potential never fulfilled, satisfaction never attained. Did it exist at all?
Still, those few words did recall another image: of himself as a presentable young man, respected for his composure and brains without being really popular. It was his surface indifference to others, he realized, his aloofness that had kept him single and finally alone, past friends scattered to greener pastures. Some had died rather young, their memory ebbing into his brain’s back waters.
Yet it was by water decades ago when, under a blanched seaside sky over a thin highway beside an ocean touching the horizon, he had first sighted someone linked eternally with this speaking shadow before him.
Campbell was driving, his right hand easy on the wheel, his thick dark hair solid against a breeze tapping the windshield of the red Mustang convertible. Campbell was wearing a blue tee-shirt with a logo once popular, now passé.
They were alongside a ruffled grey ocean, its beaches strewn from last night’s storm: wavy black seaweed, snapped logs and displaced black clumps. Lighting had flashed for hours as the sky detonated. This was an unseasonably wet July.
Today, however, was mild though sunless. Campbell gripped the wheel with both hands as an overbearing truck made an illegal pass. They were passing sand that, right there, became a thin peninsula into the ocean behind a stunted white tree with bare crooked branches facing the highway. He had, until visiting these parts, never seen such trees. Some feet away from the tree was a white clapboard house with a sloping roof of green-black tiles, a light-blue door on its side.
A young woman stood beside the highway between tree and house. She wore a blue denim jacket and pants. Her hair, bright blonde on a grey day, fell freely on her shoulders. He looked at her as they approached. She looked at him directly, a contact only broken by the car’s progress. Normally, he would shy from such frankness. Now, he looked back and kept looking at her as she kept looking at him until they grew distant.
“Know her?” asked Campbell, smirking slightly. “Like to?”
Perhaps. He seldom saw young women this striking. He seldom saw, or met, anyone impressive. Even Campbell could be annoyingly immature, though they were the same age. He was often reticent with his parents, about his feelings, about his stable but somehow unsatisfying academic career. His life lacked something.
That night, his parents upstairs in bed, he sat on a rocking chair sipping red wine as embers crumbled into grey ash in the fireplace. His parents had rented this two-story vacation cottage for a month.
He was thinking of the stunted tree, the tongue of beach, and that blonde girl, her yellow hair in the breeze.
The next day he borrowed his father’s light grey de Ville to drive not so aimlessly down the coast. The sky was a soft blue with long thin clouds. He felt latent humidity in the late morning air.
He drove slowly, barely above the minimum speed limit, cresting a rise.
He saw the stunted tree. Then he saw her, as yesterday, beside the highway. His foot rode the brake as the road levelled and she looked his way. He looked at her, saw that she was tallish, about twenty-three, dressed in a white cotton shirt and faded blue jeans. Her skin was lightly tanned, her honey-coloured hair more golden than corn yellow.
Her eyes could be blue, he thought. He wanted to make sure, foot on the brake as he drove close to her, trying nonetheless to seem casual.
A dark-clothed, dark-haired male came out of the white house’s light blue door, gazing beyond her back, at him. That stare unnerved him; his vehicle veered over the white line. He steered sharply to his right, tires grasping the thin shoulder of the road as a car in the opposite lane appeared before him. Flustered, he increased speed, trying to distance himself from his discomfort. Later, driving home carefully along the highway, he saw no one by the road: just a tree, a house, and an ocean behind it.
She had him. She knew it as their eyes met. She now had to enrapture him.
Others who drove by also looked. Some stared. But this one was different. He was more than interested or aroused; he was fascinated.
She knew he was a visitor, here only to holiday. Better that way. When he left, he would take her with him, away from this beach, this house, that tree. She was not strong enough to leave by herself. This visitor would revitalize her.
Francis could not be there. It was Francis who stopped her from leaving; who watched her increasingly. If only he didn’t: fleeing would be easier. Now, she had the right person. With his help, she would never have to see that twisted tree again.
His mother was looking at him with muted concern. His father, next to her at the plain plank table, was engrossed in a white filet glazed with butter and sprinkled with dark green parsley, a slice of lemon to the side.
They were in a simply furnished, quality sea food restaurant. The plump pink shrimps on his plate were going cold. He was eating slowly. He had been abstracted all day. He could only think of her.
It wasn’t just her face, her youth, her trim full figure. It was elemental. He had never felt such an instant, intense attraction to a girl. Of course, he hadn’t known many. Perhaps here was his chance to change that.
She seemed to live in that house by the jutting beach, by the strange tree. So, maybe, did that man with the memorable stare.
He could ask some locals about them. No. Doing so might reveal his interest. The brief look he and she had shared was theirs alone. He would find out about her himself, perhaps tomorrow. The weather was predicted sunny. He would borrow the car again, and stay within the white line, if only to see her even better.
He was driving slowly down that highway, ascending then descending that rise that dipped to the white frame house.
She was beside the road, wearing light pale blue clothes, her face toward him. That square-set man was also there, behind her. His black clothes and straight coal-black cut highlighted her fairness while still paling behind her flowing yellow locks.
The sight of those locks gave him an unusual feeling of confidence, independence. Slowing to a cruise, almost abreast of her, he dared to stop to ask directions, to hear her voice; to establish contact despite her companion.
The man in black stepped decisively before her to the very edge of the highway: a stony, thirtyish blue-jawed face, brows a black bar over eyes like shiny, chocolate-brown marbles, looking hard at him through the side window as if at a trespasser on very private property. Intimidated, he pressed the gas and drove on. When he drove back, they were not there.
He did not drive down that road the next day. That girl, though intriguing, was obviously spoken for. She might be unhappy about this, but his inexperienced self knew enough not to take this further. That man’s dark-clothed figure was strong and menacing: a possessive boyfriend or hyper-protective brother. He was over his neck here, and should forget her.
He slept badly that night. Beset by jagged dreams, he woke up gasping, as if he had stopped breathing while asleep, his body instinctively pulling itself back to consciousness to survive.
It was pitch black, silent inside and out. He felt disoriented, having awoken so abruptly. Then, his reviving brain sensed the a shadow within the darkness at the foot of his bed: a presence, somehow male. Impossible. His mind must be playing tricks.
He heard a creak just outside his door. An aging plank? His mother or father visiting the washroom? They might peek in as they did when he was a boy to see if he were asleep and alright. No, they wouldn’t do that at his age, though right now he did feel very young and vulnerable.
Something slipped past the closed door, obscure but for long blonde hair visible in the darkness; something feminine.
“She” appeared behind the male presence, causing some type of reaction, causing her form and hair to retreat to the door.
Then she was gone, soundlessly, somehow disappearing through the wooden door without turning its handle. The next instant, he noticed that the other presence was also gone, empty darkness where he, it had seemed to be.
Was this a waking dream? He did not know. He knew only that he was unnerved and alert, and would be so for hours.
She was losing him. It was because of Francis. Francis had dismayed her admirer on the road, made him lose nerve.
Trying to reactivate the young man’s interest, she had entered his room, expecting him to be alone, asleep, thus allowing her to whisper a promise into his ear that would overcome any qualms about her black-browed keeper.
Yet Francis was there. He had anticipated her plans for this visitor. He had never gone this far before.
She must try again to elude Francis and seize this opportunity, this person, to escape. Then she thought of someone else with a surely receptive ear.
His mother, smiling, was extending the corded white phone to him.
She was worried about her son’s distraction this summer in a place rented to enjoy together: to review general plans; his scholastic and other expectations. He seemed ambiguous about school. Why? She did not quite know how to ask him.
“Hi, it’s me. We’re going somewhere later on.” You had to forgive Campbell’s brashness. It basically meant well.
Campbell spoke of a beach party tonight, off the highway, perfect for young people like themselves.
He quickly thought of that white house, that tree and that girl. Would she be there, with her “guardian?” Not likely, though both resided nearby. That man in black probably kept her cloistered, away from other men.
Campbell sounded unclear about how he knew of this party: perhaps a notice in town. No matter: “I’ll drop by about nine.”
He agreed. It could do him good to get out; meet people, talk, drink, eat, relax; to sleep well and dreamlessly afterward. Calmer now, he reasoned that the other night’s nocturnal visitors were, hopefully, just his rattled nerves.
Campbell, normally talkative, said little as he started the car on the quiet street with quaint boarded houses, many rented to vacationers like both their parents. Sitting beside Campbell, he asked about beer. Campbell, pensive, seemed to hardly hear him, only mentioning a case of twelve on the back seat, bought on his way here.
They drove brief streets to the thin highway leading from town. The sky was streaks of purple and yellow as a declining sun met dusk on this warm evening on the cusp of August.
They were near the rise descending to the white frame house and twisted white tree, both solitary against the sky. He wondered about that girl, her hostile companion, and did not immediately notice Campbell decelerating, driving off the highway onto the rough ground just beyond the house and tree: the tree near to where she’d stood. Campbell killed the engine.
“We’re here.” Campbell looked at him with an odd smile, making him wonder about his friend’s disposition tonight. As they sat in silence, he wondered if Campbell was also recalling this spot and that girl.
He stepped out into warm air. A breeze with briny tang came from the dark ocean, along with the intrinsic murmur of sea.
“Where exactly is this party,” he asked. “Not …?” He looked to the house.
Campbell shook his head. “No, further on, that way.” Campbell indicated the spit of sand to the rear of the house.
He saw a fire there, people around it.
He studied the tree briefly in the waning daylight as Campbell fetched the beer from the back seat. The tree had a white trunk and several white, smooth, bare, yet hardy jagged branches at eye level. He did not touch it. Its timeless wood seemed cold to the touch, despite the near- humid evening.
He saw no light in the house. Where were its inhabitants? Where was she?
“Coming?” Campbell began walking, his arm around the red and white case, bottles jiggling lightly as they approached the beach on ground still upset by that storm.
The ground became ridged sand crumbling under his running shoes. He could see a fire there as they approached, but no people. He was sure he had seen people. Then he saw someone: tallish with long bright blonde hair, wearing a denim jacket and dark pants against the firelight in now full nightfall. The blonde head turned toward them. It was the girl he had seen beside the highway.
She could, at last, see him in full: nice height and build, neat casual dress, thick, smooth longish brown hair, his eyes dark green by firelight. In terms of looks, she could have, and had, done worse. And she had regained him. It was in his eyes, his amazed yet pleased reaction to her.
His friend was also looking at her, longing to be part of her plans, her life. He couldn’t. His passion for her was a spent necessity. It had been awakened before daybreak, with her whispering hastily in his ear, Francis not anticipating her movements last night.
Campbell had done her bidding; had delivered her target here on a rare night when Francis was away. Francis could not stop her leaving with this young man whose green eyes, hungry for her, displayed the energy she needed to survive, to flourish.
He was very close to her, no car or highway between them; no man in black about: Only him and her on that beach. Campbell seemed hardly there.
She looked lovely as firelight played on her full long golden hair, perfect cheekbones, seductively-shaped lips and dark blue eyes looking directly into his: a look for him only.
A gasp pierced this frieze. Campbell was shaking, his upper body vibrating. Campbell seemed to be losing control of his muscles, eyes glazed, struggling against this invasion, only to surrender and drop onto the ground, beer bottles clinking as the case landed on sand.
What was happening to his friend? He looked to the girl.
She looked at him, unfazed. Concern overrode her allure, and he squatted on the cool sand to examine and, remembering a television program, feel Campbell’s neck for a pulse.
“He’s alright.” He heard her voice for the first time: knowing, nuanced, sensual. It thrilled him despite this upsetting, unexpected scene. “Give him space. He’ll get up, soon.”
Campbell blinked, shook his head, then his arms and legs to see if he could still move.
“What . . . happened?” Campbell sounded weak, dazed.
“You had a spell,” she said calmly. “You’ll be okay. Just don’t stand up for a while.”
Campbell nodded, open to her words as, like warm milk, they flowed downward, from ears to veins, into muscles, everywhere.
Campbell’s now-soothed state evidenced how she could so beautifully authorize, encouraging one to do anything she said.
“It’s time we went.” She turned and simply left the scene, knowing he would follow despite his stricken friend.
He did, almost hurrying after her as she strolled toward the highway, leaving the dazed Campbell sitting on the beach.
She was standing by the dull red Mustang, looking at him, a smile on the corners of her lips. There was a silver crescent of moon above.
He felt small before her control: “But . . . Campbell has the keys.”
She extended one arm, keys on ring dangling from one finger. How had she got them? He wasn’t so surprised that she had.
He unlocked the front doors, started the engine, activated the headlights. She slid into the passenger side.
“Let’s go,” she said. Starting the car, driving it from that house and tree, he saw her glance at both with private satisfaction.
He drove the lonely highway, steering as smoothly as he could in pitch night. He wanted to drive well, to do other things well – for her.
He parked beside the house he and Campbell had left not long before dark, his parents asleep upstairs. The whole street was dormant, only one streetlight on. Campbell’s parents were staying two blocks away, secure knowing their impulsive son was with his steadier friend.
“So this is where we’re staying,” she said. “Tonight.”
He did not question her. He felt excited beside her.
“What are we waiting for?” Her voice provoked deliciously.
He led her to the house’s solid brown door with glinting brass knocker, unlocked it. Standing in the lobby at the foot of the stairs, he asked if she wanted water: “Yes.” When he returned from the kitchen with a full cool glass, she wasn’t there.
He stepped carefully upstairs. His parents were two doors away; he wanted them to stay there. His bedroom door was ajar, as he had not left it. He opened it slowly.
His room was dark but for a strip of moonlight falling on the pillow on the four-posted bed, on bright blonde hair belonging to a body under the padded cover. He closed the door softly, leaving the glass on a chair.
“There you are.” Her soft voice drew him closer. He touched her welcoming skin for the first time as her fingertips caressed his palm. Her bare arms were soft and cool as they encouraged him to her. She deftly drew a corner of cover aside for him to enter more than his bed.
Time didn’t matter right now; neither did his parents; neither did any sounds they made. All that mattered was the ecstasy she was regaling him with through her supple, shapely figure with medium breasts firm to touch and tongue, her own tongue providing incredible pleasure. His inexperience meant nothing; everything came naturally. Afterward, he slept soundly, her perfect self in his arms.
Then he was awake, cool sheet on his skin, her voice soft in his ear.
“It’s time.” He was roused instantly. She was sitting clothed on one corner of the bed, dawn entering a window above. Birds were chirping outside.
He dressed, feeling rather spent. Last night had been intense, and he hadn’t eaten for hours. Yet he wasn’t hungry.
They left quietly, a stair creaking as they descended. He recalled a creak nights ago outside this room, and a blond spirit: her trying to reach him. Well, she had finally reached him, and he had loved it.
About to open the front door, he heard stirring from his parents’ room: his mother, perhaps, sleepily noticing movement below. Right now, the only female he cared about was beside him.
He unlocked the red car belonging to Campbell’s parents. The dawn air was sharp, moist, sky grey and cloudy: rain would return. As she settled into the vinyl seat, looking straight ahead, he saw satisfaction, expectation in her face.
He had never driven this far before, taking the car along the highway away from their vacation home, from her house and that tree. Raindrops from a sombre sky began dropping on the windshield.
They did not speak as the highway left the beach to pass farmland, then towns and flat, treeless ground leading to malls, factory outlets and fast food places, electric signs glistening in the wet air.
They were hungry not for food, but for fulfillment further on, in the two-story, neat suburban house he had been brought to from the maternity ward, later walked to classes from, eaten and watched television in; a house he would, it was agreed, soon move out of.
But not yet. He would open his home to and enjoy her in it, with no parents down the hall, September and school forgotten. All he wanted was her, her face with a smile that kept delicious secrets. He felt her cool fingers touch his thigh.
The dark-haired young man stood by the highway, clutching his ribs, his light jacket and tee-shirt slim protection against a bullying wind. It was daylight.
There were no cars, no people on the highway. There was only a twisted white tree and a white boarded house that had not responded when he had knocked on its light blue door, hoping for a phone and a call home to come fetch him.
Dark clouds were moving inland from the ocean; grey foamy waves slapped the distant beach. Especially ominous nebula seemed to hover above that white house.
A thunderclap boomed behind him. Ground shook and, alarmed, he jumped. He ran across the highway, fleeing agitated nature. Then he saw, so close to where he had just stood, that the twisted white tree stood split into two, thin smoke visible.
It began to rain: hard, compelling drops, as if the sky were purging itself.
She stood beside the bed, looking at him fast asleep under a rumpled white sheet. Dull light filtered through new white laced curtains above his head. She was fully dressed.
He had been good for a beginner. But there would be others as good and better in this city. A city was diverse, active; full of men and women. Having finally escaped that hated house by the highway, she could roam free. That roaming excluded him.
Desire, intense passion, sustained her, kept her young, fit: desire rather than the climax it led to. She did not need food; she fed on appetite for her. Without that, she would shrivel. She had begun to wilt at that house behind the tree. Confinement there would have imperilled potential escape, and her plan to capture this young man she could here awaken instantly with a whisper.
But she would say nothing; she would simply leave. He had helped her get what and where she wanted; she no longer needed him.
Still, rather a pity she must quit. He was more presentable, considerate, than others who had nourished her. She could, as a parting gesture, murmur in his ear, tell him she was only a love of one night, to forget her, get on with his life, study hard, mate with tamer females and have children.
She bent toward him, then hesitated: Wait. He had more fire than other conquests. If she said just enough to embed her in his memory, both could benefit. His subconscious would keep her image as a sexual prototype: she was gifted as few females were. An essential part of him would remain hers, there to be plumbed if their paths re-crossed.
So she said soft words in one ear.
Then she left, without opening the closed bedroom door, strong enough again for the world outside.
He was alone in bed in a darkened room, grey daylight filtered by curtains covering a window above. His mind was muddy; he was not sure he was fully awake. He had been flitting from sleep to consciousness, images from both realms still fresh in his head.
How long had he been asleep? Hours, maybe longer. And he felt so depleted, his muscles flaccid, limbs limp. What had he done last night? He wasn’t even sure whose bed he was in, only that it was chilly here, the window open.
And those recurring images: an angry man in black with straight black hair over a pale, blue-jawed face, standing before him; a young woman with dark blue eyes, pristine skin and long blonde hair flowing onto her shoulders. She was as vivid as that man in black, but leaving a sensation of intimacy, pleasure, as if he had touched her skin, felt her lips on his, and more. She seemed no mere dream, and no phantom, unlike that black-clad male.
An aggressive wind hit the windows, pushing the curtains upward, their white threads clutching the curtain rod. It wasn’t going to rain; it was going to storm.
He had been given the name Francis by his elders because, they said, when among humanity one must have a name. The faded man on the bed before him knew him only as an uninvited memento of an unfulfilled past.
That was when Francis had intimidated him on the highway; scared him in that cottage bedroom. Francis had thought he’d driven him away. But he hadn’t counted on her extreme determination, or her duplicity, all which made his guardianship of her very difficult.
But she was just so seductive. Even he, Francis, one of her extended family and knowing her well, had felt urges in that house by the highway. He had, very seldom, been duped into lowering his guard, almost letting her escape, stopping her at the last moment. Then she saw a young man in a convertible that rare day he had been away.
Now Francis sat in shadow on a sticky late summer night to warn a long-empty man of an entity who had left an eternal, internal calling card through a whisper in one ear.
And what happened to mortals was happening to her.
She was aging, albeit more slowly than humans did, making her less able to travel, to draw from others. Even he, Francis, was faltering, finding it harder to enter, exit, and activate. Only a conscience relative to an inherited, unwanted power had brought him here tonight.
She had little such conscience, and would take from someone again. She was, after roaming the globe, somewhere near by, seeking satiation. Studying the middle-aged man before him, he reasoned that what little spirit he possessed might briefly refresh her.
And she still had allure, could still attract, though her prey was increasingly of this man’s vintage; a man who, but for flowing blonde hair beside a highway, might have been spared tonight’s visit.
A sleek black car rounded the crescent on a humid August night, stopping close to a two-story, brick and wood house with peaked roof, the only one such among its neighbours. The buzzing of night animals was the only sound around
The driver stayed behind the wheel. She had been driving a long time. Now she was here, after so long and so far, so many men and women. Yet the man in this house on a suburban crescent was worth revisiting: someone who had once unknowingly set her free.
She sighed slightly. She must be patient. Her former keeper would soon part, needing to return home to replenish energy. She knew that, though aging, she was now stronger than Francis and able to recapture that man in the attic.
Soft sunlight and a warm breeze came through the curtains, a gift from his parents whose white weave had slackened and stained from age, the elements and neglect. Their owner lay below them, a pillow under his thick greying locks.
He knew it was day, but so what. Every day was a day of some sort. Still, when he awoke just a short time ago, he had found himself barely able to raise his head or rise from under the crumpled sheet. He felt strangely depleted, as if he had lost much blood while sleeping.
Yet he felt neither ill nor anxious. He actually felt languorous, if only because he had dreamt his most pleasant dream ever. Whatever sickness had invaded him during the night was of the sweetest, and he did not want a doctor. Instead, he wanted to slide back to the world he had awakened from.
While there, he had felt her skin on his, smelt her scent, been thrilled by her subtle smile and blue eyes as they drew very close. And she was so familiar. He had seen her before; her face must have once buried itself into his memory to now resurface.
Then his pacific mood soured as different features gate crashed his brain: dark, male, and discontented. He saw hard chocolate-brown eyes in a grim pale face that wanted to evict her allure and beauty; to keep her from him. He had also seen that face before and had at that time probably disliked its look as much as he liked that young blonde and her promise of pleasure.
Pleasure: something unknown for so long. There had, instead, been years in a house of mundane memories, his to enjoy alone. Friendless, his parents gone, his not-old life was already spoken for. So why get out of bed to live it. He liked this limp cocoon free of care.
He felt sleep caress his brain. If he drifted off, would he return to the tactile realm he had just visited? Then why not join her there? He was sure she was awaiting him. If this was how it felt at the end of days, then perhaps it justified an unlived life, with better, beautiful things beyond. He closed his eyes and slept like never before.