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AFTER THE GULLS 

Alone with champagne the waitress has flaccidly spoken of her contempt of strangers. The almond eyed, in all the grace of her age, lays quiet in the voiceless ground.

(They thought I was mad when I quit my job but now I am alone and away from them.)

(Morning grows from the water; I am here by the water and watch morning rise)


The thought of what he'd done kept returning. Over water two gulls dove, breaking the surface of the water; the two wrestled with frenzied beaks for the fish. One had its head the other its lower torso. He looked away and around the empty room of this restaurant and listened to the clatter of plates and murmurs at the cash register.

They had been open only a few minutes and when they had opened he'd been met at the door, shivering because he had walked without his coat and the fog off the bay bit holes inside his shirt.

He'd been met by the piggish stare from the owner who looked that way almost all the time; that is, until someone cracked a joke he liked. Then the piggish expression would leap into wild laughter and his face would become framed wiggling gestures.

It was a restaurant built for sailors and overlooked the Estuary. Paraphernalia of ships were neatly placed around the perimeter of the room. In the center hung a crystal chandelier electrically lit and in the early morning it made broad yellow streaks across his table. The waitress who had taken his order talked with her boss in the corner of the restaurant, her eyes sweeping the room and flicking lightly on the guest and he believed she smiled but he'd been wrong about slight gestures before.

Underneath he could hear the slush of water puling between the green slimed logs holding the restaurant up and out over the water. They had built openings in the floor and covered them with plastic bubbles so the eaters could view fish in the green waters but he wasn't interested.

What he'd done kept coming back like a casual word that will rekindle the fascination of a story long lost under experience. And soon it engorged his mind until he couldn't relieve it by any other means then tapping a spoon against his plate.

The estuary was broken up by man-made inlets filled with sailor less boats, the masts unmoving In the water though in a short time, when the boat owners came down to their berths and set sail for the day all the thin masts would roll and rub each other like old reserved lovers.

There will be distraction, he thought. Maybe when the boats set sail or power down the estuary the variety and movement will distract.

He had sailed as a boy but hadn't revived those pleasant memories. The friends father would sleek that boat to the running board till the water ran clear along the edge like clouds on the horizon.

Jets, too, were continually landing and taking off from Alameda Air Station. They'd bite the runway like a predator and for a long time he wanted to be a flier of jets. And as the boat would sail by the airstrip on the lee a jet would rise and fall would be a canopy of its power.

He remembered and laughed bitterly to himself. How foolish a boy is. How stupid raw experiences can be.

The spoon lay across the plate. He momentarily forgot what he'd done. The water kept pulling itself in and out of the estuary. He knew that it really wasn't like that. Water couldn't pull itself one way or another: there were limits the water felt out, rolls against, falls back. The moon remained white and full in he opening of day. Even that, so they said, had control over the water.

The estuary flowed out to the mouth of San Francisco Bay and made a wide circle before emptying under the Golden Gate Bridge into the ocean.

But to see it pulling in and out of its own accord soothed the troubles that he felt when the demon of what he'd done returned.

It wasn't specifically what he'd done but everything what he'd done had caused. There was an idiocy to it. It began as tragedy and now the tragedy made sense but all the idiocy he had to feel to make the tragedy lucid...

As morning broke further into day he would look up the slope of the far-away hills bitten here and there with white homes, architectural felicities really, surrounded by eucalyptus trees.

The four remaining stars slowly merged into the daylight but the moon remained visible for hours.

The waitress poured him a complimentary glass of champagne and smiled. He looked perplexed.

"Oh, it's free," she said. "Mr. Long believes champagne and breakfast fit like gloves and hands. Drink and enjoy."

She smiled again and left the table. He looked at the champagne for a long time before fingering it with skepticism. It bubbled white and he could hear it bubbling until his nose quivered.

It sipped fine and he thought about the waitress. He thought he knew all about her. Many places he'd been he'd seen the waitress in another guise as though her body was the constant which kept changing clothes.

A lonely life in an apartment, with a few friends each who vaguely knew there were others. She enjoyed a hobby and as the years went on the hobby became more and more a passion until a at point it became a compulsion.

She continually looked around to make sure what she was doing was supported by others. All they needed was an insignia of some kind with a symbol of her hobby worn somewhere on them and she felt alive again.

He'd met several like the waitress though never stayed long. Women were at the crux of what he'd done. He'd been a journalist for several years and had become a feature writer for the Sunday supplement when a suicide occurred in a prominent family and he was assigned the task of exploring the reasons behind the appearances..

He quit the job soon after the assignment was complete. After two years he ended up in a restaurant drinking champagne before breakfast but before he had accumulated much idiocy and whether he had learned anything; whether he had learned out of that disgust the investigation of her suicide had brought on.

The suicide had occurred two and half years before and he knew her bones were half eaten by now.

The thought seemed to stop the gross, raking sensation that was like to ruin his mind he had thought many times unless it stopped but how would it stop when her image remained as brave as love?

Her name was Mona. That's all he cared to think about. The rest was nonsense.

He laid his palm against the side of his head and drank the champagne. When he finished the waitress came back and re-filled it with the towel wrapped bottle.

As she bent and lowered her face he noticed a small rash below her chin, up her neck. It could be a scar, he thought. She was pitted by tiny scars on the side of her face though, his judgment was that the waitress was not bad looking and worth getting to know If for of no other reason than to find out whether it was a rash or scar on her neck.

He doubted whether she was an adventurous one. She was tall and thin and pale: stayed around her home for too long and became obsessed with one hobby that perhaps a thousands others enjoyed as well as she. There was even a club she could belong to if she wanted but she hadn't joined as yet.

She believed she was adventurous however. Her hobby had dangers,uncontrollable dangers at times that sent blood through her pale veins.

What else could it be but that surge of life through pale veins?

She passed him several times and once he nearly held his hand out to stop her and have her sit at the table with him. He didn't know how to do it. Besides, she was working. They didn't allow that kind of thing when one was working.

The first boat slid from its berth into the estuary. A young man pulled the lines to the mainsail and the white sheet hitched to the top, fluttered, snapped taut and the boat pulled away from the berth with three men aboard.

He was tapping his spoon again. A song he'd heard in the radio In a strangers car. It was a song on the theme of loneliness, sadness, the fall of sentiment. The spoon sang the plate and he drank.

He brushed his hair with a lazy motion. He would definitely talk with her, it was really easy. All one did was make a first move. If they were disillusionment's they would inspire him or crack a' smile the way a sister will smile at a brother if he says something bad. But most women weren't disillusioned. They dreamed better than men that was a conclusion he'd come to long ago. Women could dream for years and then they'd look around for someone or something to make the dream real. He didn't want to think about it. The women he'd run into could dream rings around him. He didn't think about it much. There was a woman in Oregon, along the coast. The coast of Oregon was inundated by dunes; startled waves they were. The woman had a little cottage on the beach. They'd met at a concert and she told him that they would get high at his place. He agreed.

After they got high she told him she had come from the crest of the sea and would return when the ocean had receded past a certain point jutting out along the coast.

They both laughed.

She told him that at night she had seen a dim figure walking through the fog who chanted chanting until his voice was one with the breakers. She could read his aura sometimes and said it became red if she looked long enough. She grabbed his hand and pulled him outside to a freezing breeze. Darkness covered everything but the silver lip of waves in the distance and then she yelled, "There, he walks!"

He followed the direction of her finger to the wet blackness under them but saw only the wicked, abstract line of receding lines waft a line worming in movement all along the beach.

"You're too high," he told her in an admonishing tone of voice.

She wasn't listening it appeared, she followed her own finger with abandon and he had to follow. He tried to pull her back.

"It's too cold out here to chase phantoms," he said, raising his voice to the rise of breakers.

But she ran away from his toward the far end of the beach. He waited for her, thinking it was best to get warm back in the cottage but he was horribly worried about the woman who he had just met running after something she thought she saw.

He waited on the beach and she returned and threw herself at him, rubbing her cold breasts against him.

"You idiot," she laughed. "You idiot, not hearing what I said," and laughing all the way back to the cottage she held his hand.

Judgments were ruinous in quick relationships like the one in Oregon. It was best to forget them. And yet they kept recurring in his mind with an impunity he did not enjoy so whenever he had the opportunity he would think long and patiently about those relationships. Usually, in the end, he turned the women into something they really weren't; by hook or crook they'd turn into something else and sometimes they did.

During that period of life that only concluded when he thought hard on it many such dreamers had crossed his path.

He had taken odd jobs to keep together, moved around, and let himself realize the vulnerability one encounters on the open road. He secretly believed the world had gone insane and though he talked with people on every subject under the sun, believed everyone in the world was insane. It was his kind protection from the crude worms of experience that'd destroy a soul unless the soul devised a trick to prove the world was falling apart while the soul remained intact or what he had thought for so long to be his soul.

At times it became idiosyncratic. He would rage at a news announcer pronouncing an important death; an entertainer, for instance. He would rage against the rag doll bringing such news to him as though the dressed up doll could pronounce his own name much less the demise of someone great.

And he became less and loss fond of the citizens he ran into. As he thought about it he had gone into newspaper work to have an advantage over his fellow citizens. But it was unconscious. But as he looked boldly at his fellow citizens he came to realize they were nothing but smelly peasants feeding cattle and as though everything he over knew collapsed under the weight of this cow he fought back with an insolent expression; he told the citizens to keep their cattle out of the road.

One way to disband this thought was to imagine the peasants trying to explain something simple to their cattle. A peasant (in his mind) would animate wildly against the dumb and chewing fly-flicking cow. He'd place his arms akimbo and shake violently his eyes before clubbing the beast on the nose with a stone.

And then moan about a dead cow as his wife bitched at him.

So he laughed. But then saw the implications and grew dour again.

Those had been eccentricities however. He could herd his thoughts at will and when they grazed in a mass everything looked easier and even more pleasant. Especially the way the women had broken loose from their bondage.

Women were becoming known and when they were fully known the men could return to mystery and excise what was hateful to them.

Oakland bathed under the morning sun. He saw nothing extraordinary in the downtown fix of Oakland. A few menhir to titillate the businessmen who looked like temple executives down on the dirty grit field they cultivated.

Ah, why was he so mean drinking champagne, this early In the morning with his breakfast being prepared in the kitchen! Heaping potatoes, eggs and bacon; the odor of such a meal distracted him from the Oakland skyline and he leaned back in his chair.

It dispirited him to think how mean he'd become. A a thug of sorts. He could tease people with excruciating tenacity. And when the teased one became confused by the sudden design against them he would knife in for the kill; then go away satisfied by the expression. As she put the plate down he looked at her bravely and she looked back. For a moment they were transfixed by each others eyes. The waitress made an unmistakable gesture with her lip. It was the verge of a smile.

He nodded as though he could do nothing else. She had jet black hair braided along her forehead and the hair behind sashed around her neck to cover the scar.

As he ate he thought about the waitress. He would definitely ask her what she was doing after work. Maybe something would happen.

He thought about Mona, as well, the suicide. Mona had never been a waitress but he could imagine the kind of passing gesture the black-haired one gave to be something from Mona's bag.

To remind himself he pulled out a thin, black wallet and opened it to a photograph of the dead woman. The photo had been given to him by Mona's brother when the journalist paid him a visit to inquire into her life.

The brother gave him the photograph and he turned it over to see the faded ink expressing affection and distance on the other side.

He looked once more and something suddenly animated his imagination; the look of her eyes, pleading out to someone to fetch her from the frozen pose or the slight intimation of a smile culled from the observation of something occurring outside the range of the corner; a child sticking his tongue out. Or a man being shamed with the language and playing with a little horn all at the same time before disappearing out the door with a serious laugh.

The face never remained the same in his imagination and at times disappeared into an abstracted pulse of desire he could seize any old hag with and give her the life she had never had; an embarrassment He would confess to these hags wherever ho found them in bars, along beaches, on street corners waiting for the bus. He would eventually confess after they had told him their life stories, stories remarkably the same! An early marriage, an early connubial death, hopeless intrigues by a thousand and one genies in plot against their happiness. They would tell all up to the very moment of sitting in the bar and he would listen and after awhile listening each word the hag spoke was driven into the language he possessed and would meet a kind of dippsy feeling that the hag was speaking about his life to the final pronouncement grooved in memory along his forehead.

He relieved himself with continuous regurgitation of memory that was to so precise he felt proud of himself. He had lost his way is what it came down to. He had lost his way and depended on these sweet hags to set him right.

Scolding was their brew. Scolding from a pit of childless pain. "Young one, you waste time on talk." The screech was music to his ears. "I can see you don't live right. Don't eat proper things. Probably drink too much. Well, let me tell you I'll tell you right-your body at this very moment grows to its decay- no matter where your mind gets. And when the body goes" and the old hag would point to her head and twist her finger, concluding in a fist.

He took things from people and hid what he took somewhere on the premises where the victim lived.

Then he imagined how they'd look when they found they were missing something. It would be something to see- something to relish to see the victims rushing around looking for something he had lost for them. In these moods he wished they would lose it forever.

That was perplexing to him; why he could do that. The breakfast came with admonition from the waitress not to touch the plate. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He laid the picture next to his plate and began to eat. Thinking about the woman in the picture made him forget the fact he hadn't tasted a meal like the one spread before him in so many moons his tongue was confused.

He ate with caution as though he didn't believe it was food he was eating. He held the picture up with a thumb and forefinger. All at once the assignment rushed back into consciousness; approaching the dead woman's parents, family and friends, the reading of her secret diary, the going to places she had been the last four months of her life- asking the police the final details.

The actual writing of the assignment was nothing more than a string of laments tooled into the cold reasoning of journalese. He had the opportunity for interpretation. A staff photographer took pictures of the room where she had died and under the photograph the supplement editor had written a pleasing caption about tragedy in the modern world. That's how he remembered it. And now in a thousand and one closet attics and garages the assignment gathered yellowed under strings and wires of long ago news.

But he had quit soon after. At the time he didn't know the reason why but after two years he knew he had been right.

The waitress had many men. She was a slow evolving man. Each told her what she desired. What she could chew and drive her on to the next encounter. It was romance of a kind; he imagined it could be such a thing and it caused a feeling of elation that romance was being served in hovels where he, in his experience, had encountered a vicious kind of love. No, he countered to himself no, it was that the women desired it all at once. Nothing would satisfy a power that had once been satisfied by dangling half-comic instruments of promise or prowess. The testicles had shriveled into ludicrous visions half concocted in monstrosities that would not move but for the turbine blades and ungracious metal collapse of elevators and escalators and devices as forceful to his sensibility as shoots of lightning had been to first man; that godless creature who began the world wander round. Or a child. Of course! An overripe child had started it all. No-or- it could have been an old, hardly potent man, white- whiskered, boozy, cursed pin rolling toward the star as though it were proposing to open and clear those lights to prevent them from changing direction, disappearing in time as though frightened of the consequences of strange lights in the night like a circus act; caught before the fall into a sub- polar pool an inch thick but survivable by graceful manipulations of the body.

The waitress despised the male- certainly- no question. Could it be any other way? Her men were ready to serve. Her men gave what she wanted. They had met dozens like her. The only way to keep her legs in the air was to hand her what came from the experience of other women. The men didn't mind. It was simpler than fighting for a decent position in a company. It was remembering a sentence or three sentences carefully wormed into a fleeting emotion, like a cloud come erupting from blue/synchronized gestures to go along with the several sentences. The action following the five to ten second utterance came to a night of excruciating pleasure so absurdly, quickly done away with that both made excuses to see one another again sometime in the future. They would think about what they had learned about the other and call later on to make an appointment. But during the meantime she had seized another with a story wasted on such a thing as her omnivorous desire to be everything at once; to want it all. The man would be overwhelmed by his impotence and stupidity.

And in her mirror the face and body she stared into were the flesh of a scientist, madam, caretaker of male souls, sister, cook, teaser, little girl, avant-garde personality, evil, passionately good, immortal in the luscious comb of Cleopatra's mons Venus, everything she could image the moment she viewed herself. What delight! What heroism! And she would erect a stake for herself when judged by the inferior dun she had to breath with and light the faggots about her feet and melt into the coals of doom as Bruno had done- ah

From his position in the restaurant he could see the desultory spread of houses, spontaneity and buildings crumbling as they supported the life inside them. That was a fair judgment, he thought. The air was salt from the ocean and rubbed into the stucco for years of inhabitants until one day they sat down in a heap like one going to sit on the toilet. It would be during winter since the cold contracted everything like wet fingers.

The fact they fell of their won volition was comforting to him. If they didn't fall they'd be ruined by black balls of iron and it seemed simpler to allow them the freedom to fall from ago or poor construction.

On the freeway once he drove behind a rig caked by dry grease with a red flag dangling from a cylinder and words grooved along his sight with the grooves in the road- "JONES DEMOLITION' and then an officious stamp in metal of the company who built the rig.

Perhaps an accident had occurred fifty cars ahead or an animal had ambled onto the road but for whatever reason the traffic seeped through the air with the low, rumbling engine of the rig vibrating the road as though nothing moved but the vibration on the sole of his feet.

There was no question the rig headed for a destination since it was early in the day and looked unused.

He could see an elbow protruding slightly out the passenger side and then the flash of a smoked out cigarette dropped to the road.

These men must love their work, he thought. In their work, geometry was in evidence. The parabola. The arc. The silence as the iron ball attained its extension, froze, fell back into the wall of the building resounding the area with the horn or bellow of Indian elephant. And what was there, crumbled He wondered if they closed the building or cleaned the building of everything inside before the destruction. Would a couch or aluminum chair spill out of the hole? Or wall hangings? A still life painting of apples, a bowl?

Or an old stop sign bolted in a bedroom? Or an old RCA blackandwhite- 12 inch screen, silently dropping to the ground and in an eerie muffle bursting on impact? One of the odd jobs he had taken placed him in the middle of a construction site at the moment when it's difficult to tell whether a thing is going up or coming down. Fresh wood lay planed, solid under lateral rows of hods. Somewhat congealed into the lungs. A shout, laughter and incessant maw of drill bit eating the fresh smelling wood.

His job was to pick refuse around the area to pile in the back of a flatbed truck. His partner took one side of the site, he the other. Bent nails thrown from the skeletal ceiling of the apartment building that before winter would house three hundred strips of tar paper and insulation- cut- up wire (for the copper) broken boards, old drill bits, lathe, hunks of concrete, anything fallen or broken to be salvaged later on. For one week he felt odd doing the job. The union workers at the site made jokes about a man paid to clean the profusion of refuse littered about like the gut of an animal. The taunting came early In the morning and tapered off by noon. The jabber didn't bother him but the sudden realization that it would continue indefinitely did make him rush the job a bit as though, he too, knew it was no job to be proud of.

The fact he had been a working newspaperman not long before helped him fight off the constant ribbing. As the refuse was slowly cleaned he questioned to himself the wisdom of the decision he had made following the suicide of Mona Lune.

It was on his mind before the ribbing. The senselessness of the act. The suave beauty she possessed;a beauty that America had always distrusted. The inability of his small article to draw out any more sense from the life and act of the woman then the suicide itself. And the constant pressure of knowing the article would continue into middle-age without respite.

No wonder all the old guys though Hemmingway was a god, he thought.

He had been right though many had tried to dissuade him and ho had crossed paths with some who thought it out of the ordinary to give up a career to scrounge. Some had even made a career out of scrounging. A WORLD RUNNING OUT OF LUCK, he thought.

BUT SOME OF THOSE WHO RAN! WHAT STYLE AND GRACE!

Many sought the old country in the bowels of a monstrosity in the belly of a devouring whale, in the ragged claws of time shuttling backward like a stream loosened between banks and oozing though loam toward a lattice of greyish-white spindle roots stuck underground as though the earth had peeled in geological layers to reveal a net of mingling root- like tenuous old bones.

Fondly remembered now all of those on the Oakland Estuary as hashbrown steam vaporized through his nostrils.

He thought of the effort an invisible arm had made to prepare what would soon be devoured. One could lay frozen hashbrowns and without thawing them lay them on the fry in a clump while the sizzle decomposed the square black of tingling brown crystals into the separate potatoes cut by a machine in Los Angeles.

They had removed the guillotine from human affairs and now attacked vegetables and cows with a ferocity unknown even in the reign of terror when heads rolled from the block like overripe oranges in a groove.

Each potato bit huddled under a thin skin of grease. The omelet wiggled from the edge of his fork; the juice of a tomato dripped off a flap of skin. He ate tasting onion.

Then washed it down with champagne. Before he could notice, others had entered the restaurant and in that peculiar way masses have of enclosing themselves when freedom is spaced around in wide circles, the new customers sat two tables away from him; two tables so he could hear the ragged coughs of an old man and smell the floating dab of toilet water between the breasts of his woman friend.

The waitress, the one he would talk to when courage returned, took the new orders and walked away. Her walk couldn't be described as fatigued but it lacked the cohesion of a parade.

He was thinking parade and It was natural because those who he had met could be likened to members of a great parade; a concatenation were one to abstract the physical cumbrances surrounding the various meetings. No parade was better than meeting, after all, one couldn't possibly meet someone who was parading except by eye contact and even that has as fleeting as a wink.

They were spotted all over the western states though how they had come to the western states was a long too long story in itself.

He didn't even know half their names. He could ramble off some fine names but a dozen faces appeared and the names could fit any of the faces without too much manipulation or destruction to the identity of the people.

What tales they told! What stories lay hidden from view of the silent, frightened crowd! It was an occult knowledge one could pridefully hold onto.

He was shocked by what people had given up. Maybe they didn't give up. Perhaps, unfortunately, people didn't give up but they gave up what they squandered. So they squandered awkwardly in dusty hotel rooms and Trailways Bus Depots and scarred bars the owner littered with wood shaving to soak up the beer.

Through mutterings and alleyways stories were uncovered and at the end of the day a lump of flesh, perhaps sobbing in gnarled beds or winking to passerby's winking so they'd think they were mad or worse. If the strangers had known the stories of those lumps of flesh, would they have become frightened or uplifted? Hard to tell how people reacted. Couldn't really trust reaction. Reaction learned from scenes larger than ones own mind, learned from hacks and poor actors so the poor head and body of a paying customer didn't know which way to react. Had to practice in front of mirrors. Or friends and relatives. Feigns wasted on period of youth. One of those stolen articles a man shrugs off finding something new.

He felt sad and lowered his champagne and leaned back in the chair. Perhaps a storm would come. So many thought the world would end shortly what would be wrong with a little storm to excite the nerves? There was nothing quite like the slash of rain against bay windows until the heart skipped its beat of memory.

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