michael reid rubenstein

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michael reid rubenstein

michael reid rubenstein
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NOVEMBER 27, 2012 2:58PM

Ophelia Reconfigured

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Ophelia Reconfigured

The complete work or as Corinne commented, “No fiction is ever finished.”

by Michael Reid Rubenstein

I

He remembered her eyes wandering. She said, “I’m bored, and boredom is my hell.” He sniffed her smell. It seemed different. How did anyone comprehend existence, passages of time, end? They shared secrets intimacies stories. Their lives were irrevocably entwined. Some scars don’t go away. Looking back, it seemed like an enchanting dream that wrecked in terrible nightmare. Tomorrow he was scheduled to see a different shrink and switch meds. He tried to rationalize what privately occurred. Ophelia and Odysseus seemed uniquely matched though age discrepancy did cause curiosity or suspicion. They always sat close together, kept to themselves, never distracted from one another. Recently she pursued a restraining order. He never attempted to stalk her. Someone needed to explain.

It’s thirteen months since Ophelia McGuiness or Ophie as she referred to herself and Odys first met. She was the on again, off again girlfriend of his old friend Tom Hill. Odys arrived in Chicago January 4, 2011, after leaving twenty years ago. While away he scraped by working numerous odd jobs: thrift store cashier, house painter, pizza delivery driver, record store clerk, vintage clothing store, substitute yoga teacher in Tucson, Arizona.

They met at Tom’s apartment. They shared a pizza and laughter. Ophie admired Odys’s painting, dated 1984, which Tom displayed on front wall. Numerous cat hairs clung to her clothing. Tom pointed down at last piece of pizza. Odys replied, “Thank you. I’m full.” Tom looked to Ophie and said, “Snuff it. You look hungry.” She wore tight jeans and pizza smudged white top under pink hoody. Her brown hair fell to mid-back parted and combed like a schoolgirl’s. Her playfulness caused Odys to pay attention. Her nationally published literary achievement intrigued him.

Tom joked, “My penis rules your Venus.” Ophie sassed back, “My scrawny Irish ass-o-nance governs your brashness, no alliteration intended.” Odys looked up. Tom’s tone switched, “Oh please, let’s not even go there.” She picked up Tom’s old gray cat and sat it on her lap. Addressing Odys she flirted, “You see? I’ve been urging Tom to try all sorts of things with my body, but he’s unwilling.” Tom held Ophie in his arms. She snuggled nearer. Tom and Ophie seemed a spirited attractive couple. Odys hoped nothing but happiness for them. He dreamed of finding a partner like Ophelia.

II

January 8 lone gunman shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen other people in Tucson, Arizona. January 14 Tunisian government fell. Weeks later Egypt exploded in revolution.

Odys began communicating with Ophie through Facebook. “Cool meeting you. I think you are absolutely amazing. Just got off the phone with Tom. He told me you sure can write. I’m looking forward to reading your work. I’m sending you several internet addresses, and hope you check them out.” Ophie messaged back. “I'm confused by some of this but that's probably because Tom got me all feverish just in time to jet off to Bear Mountain. His vacation is great timing for me to complain about him infecting me with his cold. I left one of my books for you at his place, because I figured you two would see each other, or I would probably see you there, before Option C, the unknown. And yours is signed to you so make sure you get the right one. I love your painting, and I am so glad to meet the person who made it. You are way more interesting than your painting (though I might steal it from Tom if we ever break up). Tell him if he stops calling me fat that will go a long, long way. I will look at your links tomorrow. Right now I am a sick waste of life wrapped in a down comforter. Welcome back! xoxo om ps I am sweet on Tom”

Odys hesitated for an instant wondering about Option C, the unknown.

III

January 31 through February 2, major snowstorm crippled Chicago. Tom, hair stylishly trimmed goatee stubble, wearing heather gray fleece zipped turtleneck, drove beige Porsche SUV with Odys to trendy restaurant of Tom’s choosing. In flippant tenor Tom revealed he dumped Ophie in text message. Odys questioned, “Tom, in a text message, how could you? It’s so callous. You wouldn’t even fire one of your workers in a text message, would you?” Tom glared at Odys then hurriedly back to blizzard obstructed street traffic. He grinned, “Sure, I’d axe an employee in text message. What’s wrong with that?” Odys reacted, “But Ophelia is an amazing woman.” Tom replied, “To hell with her. There’s a lot of fish in the sea. She’s more trouble than she’s worth. Besides, I don’t read fiction.”

Odys recalled Tom Hill from years ago, a younger man full of ambition and uncertainty. Tom unfolded napkin placing it on lap. He asked, “Remember the night getting crazy with your then-current flame Eva or Sophia, or what was her name? Man, we had fun. I’ve missed you, Odys. Did you make any paintings in Tucson?” Odys answered, “Yup, packed away at a friend’s house.” Chin in hand he inquired, “Heard from Ophelia?” Tom answered, “She calls and texts, but it’s over. Her figure could really be more toned. And there’s something seriously fucked-up about her. She’s got eating and self-bashing disorders, incurable anxiety problems, and she bleeds during sex. She’s a mess.” Tom cited Huffington Post article about thousands of turtledoves falling dead from the sky then editorialized about Casey Anthony and Lindsay Lohan. He seemed to have Ophelia all figured out. Knowing little about her, Odys shrugged. He said, “Thank you for the meal, Tom. I’m grateful to see you again.”

IV

Ophie was nearly thirty years younger than Odys. They shared common interests. Both were writers, avid readers, visual art devotees, hockey fans, and difficult childhoods. Over the next several weeks he read and reread her book. They emailed, texted and talked at length on cell phone. Ophie spoke in soft nurturing voice resembling little girl. Her current published work was mainly about her mother’s abuse and rejection. She explained her mom, once a high fashion model, losing her desirability to middle age, suffered emotional/psychological imbalance.

Ophie didn’t smoke. Odys appreciated that. She explained her lungs were undeveloped due to premature birthing. Her infirmity budded playing high school soccer. As young child Ophie hid in closet and read. She had impeccable academic credentials educated at exclusive Eastern and English universities. Her CV included teaching poor kids overseas, traveling through Africa and Asia, and catching a mosquito virus that nearly killed her. She expressed bumpy feelings about her siblings. Mostly she talked about her father whom she idolized. She proudly told how he devotedly stuck up for her, bought her a horse, turned her on to Kurt Vonnegut, Bob Dylan, and allowed her at fledgling age to watch “Easy Rider” and “Raging Bull.” Odys realized Ophie’s dad and he were near in age. He wondered about her longing for father figure or older man. Tom was fifteen years older than Ophie. He knew from the start she was problematic, yet amazing. He could not resist. What was it inside him that was drawn to trouble, after countless lessons?

V

Ophie referred to Tom as “Douche Bag.” She vented about his philandering, undeclared daughter, marijuana addiction, brutal judgments, OCD, and homosexual issues. Worst of all she blamed him for four STDs he infected her with. She swore, “I’ve never cheated on a boyfriend. I’ve always been true, faithful, devoted.” She also boasted, “We McGuiness’s fight dirty!”

In February Tom called Odys on cell phone, wanting to know if Ophie and he were seeing each other. Odys answered, “No, but we’re talking and texting a lot. Did you give her four STDs?” Tom’s voice grew angered, “I’ve seen my internist, and tested clean. She didn’t get them from me! And what happens between her and I is none of your goddamn business! That lying bitch is fucking trouble.”

Friday March 11, Japan endured devastating earthquake, triggering tsunami then nuclear power plant disaster. Odys scribbled thoughts.

 Tom paints her unquestionably damaged

digging deeper hole.

Concerning hurt from her mother,

anorexic young girl slits hip,

 localizing pain,

 jeans rub against wound,

stinging hurt.

Will she become mouthful of bitter dust?

or literary laureate lacerating unthinkable thoughts

that do not sleep at night?

He thought about his own difficult upbringing: Dad’s explosive temper, beatings, Mom’s criticisms, guilt-ridden overcompensating. He remembered getting sent away at early age. Yet there was no one to blame but himself. And not that Ophelia and Odysseus’s pasts mirrored each other, but they shared a common thread, the curse of the kicked child. What made them incapable to rebound like other children?

VI

Their rapport grew intimate. Ophie offered, “Let’s have phone-sex. Pull my hair. Spank me. Shove it in my booty! Masturbate and let me listen. I want to walk you through. Tell me your wickedest fantasy.” Odys answered, “I need the real thing.” She postponed numerous dates to meet in person, disappointing Odys. Thursday April 14 rain gusting evening, they finally met for drinks at an Irish bar named Shenan’s. He paid cab fare. It was more than three months since their initial encounter. He’d studied her photo on inside jacket of her book and Facebook profile pic but her actual presence compelled him. “God, I’m excited to see you.” She had a child's face pallid complexion the longest eyelashes he’d ever seen on a woman thick brown eyebrows warm blue intelligent eyes and peach fuzz sideburns.

He suggested, “Let’s go get pizza or anything you want.” She replied, “I ate before I came. Wine is fine.” They chatted and drank several glasses. He said, “Maybe we’ll each be remembered for just one thing, one book or painting or act of heroism or cowardice or stupidity. What do you wish will be your one thing?” She answered, “I want to…” Her voice hit low note then sprang. “…to write something funny.” He paused then remarked, “That would surprise your audience. Does audience matter?” She looked with tightened brow without answering. He glanced down bar out open door. He asked, “There are probably millions of people without love living in the world. This existence, uhmmm…what are the chances or opportunities like ours ever occurring anywhere? How does the unknown become known? No one knows what will be.” She smiled and said, “Odys, there’s a special place I want to take you to tomorrow, a garden next to the Art Institute entrance.” Her fingers grazed his thigh. He beamed boyish grin replying, “Sounds like a plan.” They walked to Mom’s building. He cautioned about hepatitis c. She nodded agreeably. They spent the night together.

VII

They talked on the bed touched kissed fumbled with each other’s clothing. Their eager fingers searched examining everything. He whispered, “You’re gushing wet.” Her forehead pushed into his chest, murmuring, “Look who’s talking, Odys. You’re spotting your boxer shorts.” She ran off to middle bathroom to vomit. There was an adjacent bathroom to back bedroom but she didn’t want him to hear her retch. Ophie returned looking ashen and exhausted. She explained, “Odysseus, this has nothing to do with you, or us. It’s an aftershock from my relationship with Tom.” Odys accepted without questioning. Her body was covered with bruises especially huge dark purple mark at base of rib cage above right hip. He glanced away inquiring, “Did Tom do that?” Ophelia replied, “I was in a taxi accident. I fall a lot. I did them to myself.” She looked straight into his eyes, adding, “Tom gave me four STDs.”

Family and friends also noticed the purple marks on her alabaster white arms and legs. Their hasty judgments pointed at him. The dark contusions were an upsetting sight. A close friend asked, “Does she suffer from some disease?” He didn’t know what to say. He shrugged his shoulders answering, “Ophie is delicate, and black and blues easily.” He pondered her self-injury. There was something sketchy and scary about her. He rationalized, artists are not known for their physical or mental health. With her permission he shot photographs of her battered body as way to exorcise his worried feelings, dated Friday April 21 4:18 pm.

VIII

His living situation was rent-free yet compromised. He relocated across country to freezing winter in order to care for fragile elderly mother. She was 90 and her immediate condition warranted serious concern. She suffered malignant lump in same breast operated on to remove cancerous tumor fifteen years ago. Also her kidney renal passages were blocked requiring surgery.

Odys accompanied Mom to doctors, organized her medicines, mail, managed groceries, opened bottles, repaired declining household, etc. Mom was an inspiration. She was a proud independent woman gifted with great beauty and sense of humor. She rose to every social occasion. Seated at restaurant table with glass of iced premium vodka in front of her, she could handle herself with royalty. She inhabited busy world crammed with parties, shopping for gifts, clothes, returns, dressmaker alterations, hair salon, manicures, weddings, funerals, errands, lunches and dinners. Mother and son shared contentious relationship most of their lives. Odys hoped to assuage their dysfunction, yet understood nothing replaced distracted upbringing. Ophie joined in smoothly, calling Odys’s mother, “Mom.” Ophie was a virtuoso advocate knowing hospital protocol, asking the right questions, taking notes, working well with doctors and nurses.

She lugged around a heavy black shoulder bag filled with laptop pens notepads and lots of other woman things. She regularly offered to carry in her bag items he was holding. Her broad shoulders tilted from high right to low left.

 

IX

Mom’s privileged neighborhood was an overwhelming adjustment. He elaborated, “Living in Tucson was less stressful. I swam daily, practiced yoga, veganism, gardened, hiked. I struggle with Chicago, in a way, it’s fucking horror, the vulgarity, crowdedness, disparity of wealth, exploitation, corruption, racism. Look around at all the élite boutiques and parked shiny Ferraris, garish faux celebrities sitting behind windows or outside tables of posh restaurants, their conceited glances fraught with hunger and disdain. I hate it.” She answered, “Ease up, Odys. There are lots of opportunities in Chicago. Wait and see…”

It was weird, all his belongings crated in middle bedroom, all Ophie’s things at her Uptown address. They lived in Mom’s tastefully modern condominium decorated with Odys’s paintings. He bought pricey prescription sunglasses and started primping excessively, perhaps due to partnering with younger eye-catching woman or Mom’s glamorous surroundings. Mutually, Ophie adorned makeup. There was a photograph of her, wet hair combed back hunched shoulders wearing white sleeveless dress, holding small-mirrored compact case in left hand while applying mascara brush to eyelid, dated May 5, 6:28 pm. He told her, “You’re absolutely gorgeous. You don’t need enhancing.” She answered, “I want to.”

He greeted everyone he passed with a nod and, “Hello.” It was a way to show respect and diffuse hostility. She teased him, mocking his social graces. She held out her hand comically mimicking, “Hi, my name is Odys. What’s yours?” She kidded about yoga exclaiming, “BREATHE! BREATHE!” Ophie could be audacious.

While he talked with his friend Jack on cell phone she exposed demure breasts. His eyes glued gawked speechless. On other end of phone Jack’s voice shouted, “Odys, are you there? Hello…hello?” She knew he was smitten finding her natural looks stunning. In his eyes her physical form was his absolute epitome of beauty to most miniscule detail: bourbon brown hair opalescent skin smile dimples distinguished forehead bellybutton feathery pubic mound distinct salty sweet scent velvet voice slender fingers toenails painted dark burgundy the most plump labia he’d ever known. Her appearance conquered him.

She warned, “My mom was hypercritical of my exterior starting from a very early age, so I’m hypersensitive about comments regarding how I look. Your fascination with my looks taps into a huge reservoir of self-loathing. Odysseus, I appreciate you thinking I'm pretty, but I don't really want to hear about it.” Incongruously, her hypersensitivity did not apply to him. She frequently called Odys, “Handsome,” admiring physique and approving garments. She boosted his poise. “Powder blue is a good color for you.” She liked wearing his clothes, borrowing items he never saw again.

X

From black shoulder bag she dug, fuzzy straps with velcro fastenings for wrists and ankles. She explained, “They’re simple to use, and softer than your climbing ropes. My friend Max from Manhattan found them for me, but never used them on me.” Odys noticed small knot at one end, but thought not to mention detail. He asked, “Shall we take them for a test-drive?” She nodded grinned replied, “Later, or tomorrow morning.”

Sunday morning sunrise May 1, he slipped on running clothes then stood at foot of bed. She looked up with fluttering sleepy eyelids. Lifting comforter he tenderly grasped her ankles spread legs apart then leaned into her and sniffed. Her eyes opened wide. He thought to himself, how incredible! Everybody smelled a little personal in the morning, but not Ophie. She smelled fragrant like a popcorn ball.

When he returned from running she was sitting up resting against pillow knees propped typing on laptop. He opened her thighs and went straight for her backend. She said, “What are you doing? Slow down!” He replied, “Okay, alright, I’m jumping in a fast shower.” He promptly returned to her bedside. She commented, “Look at you. mmm…You look so good!” He tied her wrists to bedposts. They kissed and fondled. His fingers lightly brushed her hair neck shoulders breasts gently clasping nipples gliding across hips belly to swollen sogginess. His finger probed tongue followed. Her bone pushed into his face. She did not make another sound until she moaned, “Enough!”

They were both built slim, his weight exceeding hers by around twenty pounds. Her physique was athletic yet neglected. She frequently teased, “Look, you’re shorter than me.” He was not. He slipped into her jeans. She wore his boxer shorts to bed. Ophie routinely slept on left of double beds nearer to bathroom. Longing to accommodate her, Odys slept on wet spot wherever it ensued.

 

XI

It was a chilly spring, deadly tornadoes spawning in heartland, pollen in the air. His nose ran excessively. Ophie’s allergies triggered less attention. He took tissues, sneezed clear moisture then deliberately placed for re-use. The bedroom filled. He asked, “Is this your tissue or mine?” She answered, “They’re all yours.” On several occasions his nose bled. Ophie recommended vaseline. The remedy worked. She made herself entirely available to him. She had no job no children and her only obligation was a cat she fed and pampered once a day. She seemed to be recovering from her vomiting bouts and anxiety attacks. Except for dark discolored rib, her bruises were fading though replaced by others. He felt they had overcome their first great hurdle.

She wanted to hang out all day with him. They searched for new restaurants or her proven favorites. It was fun. She delighted in food and drink. She usually ordered a glass of wine or two. Everywhere they went she got carded. She looked and acted young for her age. He paid the bill with what savings he had. Afterwards they returned to back bedroom, napped then made sex. She teased, “Girls rule. Boys drool,” and “Keep your eyes on the prize.” They volleyed wits and clever banter. He’d been a struggling painter/writer for decades never achieving real success. He undervalued himself, a habit he’d reconciled to. Her fondness revived him. He cherished her. He felt belonging, no longer alone. He felt happier than he could remember. Her beauty stirred his every thought. They scrapped and he let her win, wanted her to win, knew if he won, it wouldn’t be as exciting. Deep down he believed her directions were making a better man of him. He gave her a tiny harmonica on chain necklace she liked to blow into at inappropriate occasions. Ophie could be brazen. She gave him blue bead that glowed in the dark from Cape Cod. He wore it on hemp string around his neck.

Tuesday May 10, 7:20 am, after a run then shower Odys entered bedroom. Ophie laid rigid under covers arms at sides staring up at ceiling. She whispered, “I’m having an attack. Don’t come near.” He touched bed and offered, “What can I do? Please tell me.” She answered, “Just leave me alone, Odysseus. I’ll get through this. Go fix yourself breakfast. I’m not hungry.” He followed her directions yet worried about her condition. It was the intonation of her voice.

XII

They visited the Lincoln Park Conservatory and Zoo. He kidded, “Look, your eyelashes are as long as the giraffe’s.” She grinned. Her body leaned into his. He switched on recorder in his phone. He narrated, “Look, she said, a beam of light from a crack in the wall.” Ophie surged, “I didn’t say it. That was Odys.” They burst out laughing.

There was a photograph of her embracing dark bronze larger than life statue of Shakespeare, dated Wednesday May 17, 1:28 pm. She wore light blue knitted scarf wrapped around neck hair falling to mid-back gray snug hoody skinny jeans blue shabby Converse low-tops. They walked west to Clark Street and Fullerton for cheeseburgers. They talked about Mom and aging and death. She asked, “Did you ever see the Scorsese movie, ‘The Departed’ with Jack Nicholson?” He replied, “Yes.” She inquired, “Do you remember Jack saying, ‘We all die. Act accordingly.’ Odys, we’re all going to die. If it wasn’t scary at times, it wouldn’t be worth living.” He thought for moment. “I’m not afraid of death. I mean, I’m grateful for my fitness and fortune in this life, but I’m not afraid to die. I’m afraid of the swarming masses, their ever-evolving psychological/social delusions, disorders, savageries. There are a lot of amazing people in the world. I believe in letting them reach for their dreams. I treasure the earth’s differences. I don’t know why I find people so disappointing. I don’t mean to sound so cranky. I realize some parts of the world are seriously backward.” She nervously giggled responding, “Relax, Odys, but I understand what you’re saying. Have faith in humankind.”

XIII

The back bedroom filled daily with her clothes, female accessories, stacks of books, piles of snapshots of her growing up in suburbs, all her friends and family. She wanted him to know them. He welcomed becoming part of her life. When she spoke on iPhone with friends and family, she told how wonderful he was, and how happy she felt away from Tom. She told her father, "Odys is a very grateful boy. I want you to meet him." Unlike previous parental introductions which he dreaded, he was keen to face her dad, and punk-rocker sister who posed, “I’ll kill you!” and entire McGuiness clan.

He looked up to her. She was his empress. He delighted in her unaffected style. She said, “Quit being such a perfectionist, Odys.” Unlike him she was indifferent about updating her iPhone, computer, closing out of applications, etc. He felt weary of his finicky behaviors. He found her impromptu disregard for exhaustive order appealing, even enlightening. There were moments when he wished she were a little tidier. She admitted peeing in shower. Several times he peeked behind curtain. She knew what he wanted. She looked away from faucet, smirked and replied, “You missed it.” Her kisses and caresses nursed him back from straying so long in desert. He woke up with leg cramps. She massaged his calves. She was unexpectedly nurturing. He studied blue veins and contours of her breasts. He confessed, “I love all your tiny moles.” She pointed to mole near nipple, “You like this one?” He answered, “Yes!” She pointed to mole on neck, “You like this one?” He answered, “Yes, yes, yes.” She pointed to mole on left cheek, “You like this one?” He answered, “Oh my god, that’s my favorite mole. You’re so sexy!” Ophie laughed aloud. She remarked, “I’m the best-looking of my sisters.”

He created an account for her on his computer to help her feel more at home. He offered whatever aroused her attention: t-shirts, belt, antique typewriter, Zeiss 35mm camera for her photographer friend Robert who lived in Charlotte, skull bead for her punk-rocker sister, black and white Nina Simone poster for her father. When Ophie got drunk she fell asleep with eye contacts on. In the morning her eyes were bloodshot and blurred. He bought contact lens solution and kept small dish in back bathroom.

A consequence of her STDs was thorny wart growing on clitoris. She was embarrassed. Every night or morning he kissed and massaged until it fell away in late May. He looked up smiling announcing, “See, I know how to heal you.” She replied, “You’re a fixer, Odys, just like me.” She wanted to pinky-swear about everything. He thought it childish yet went along. They conferred they both disliked their birthdays and vowed pact to combine dates, celebrating on secret day. They came to each other emotionally immature unrealistic artists inept in matters of survival skills and business sense. His eyes wet easily and he bit his fingernails. There were numerous pictures of her flipping him the bird obscuring her visage. There is a photograph when they stuck Laughing Cow cheese red wax encasing on their noses. She wore royal blue t-shirt hair pulled back in ponytail and he in Blackhawks t-shirt sunglasses aiming phone camera to mirror while both laughed goofily, dated Tuesday May 24, 5:17 pm.

XIV

Everyone in Odys’s family embraced Ophie. They joked, “All you two do is hang out together. You’re constantly yakking together. Don’t you get sick of each other?” He felt thrilled in her company, sharing meals her observations remarks continuous texting phone calls partnership. Everyday their love seemed to grow stronger deeper more passionate. Often she relieved him in the morning. Afterward they tiptoed past Mom’s bedroom door to kitchen. Together they made breakfast. She liked everything bagel slightly burned Irish butter or thin coat of cream cheese tomato sprinkle of fresh pepper. She prepared Mom’s coffee while he made bagel.

Ophie knew the names of many plants and flowers. She pointed to Japanese red maple trees with dark burgundy foliage, which were her favorites. She introduced Odys to the pygmy marmoset, Ana Vidovic, Jacqueline Du Pré, Sasha Grey, what a fluffer meant, Flight of the Conchords, Kevin Hester’s kick returns, and Will Ferrell’s “Landlord” skit. He bought her books by Lydia Davis, Annie Proulx, Yukio Mishima, Lauren Slater, and Pauline Réage’s “Story of O,” which aroused her desires the weekend she read it. She grabbed him by his belt clasp pulling him to her. “This book is making me so horny. Let’s have sex then more sex, then nap and eat, then more sex! I need to get off so bad.” Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes “Home” became their theme song. She obsessively played the tune on her iPhone holding it to his ear until he urged, “Okay, it’s enough. It’s so pillaged by pop culture.”

Living together, breathing eating sleeping sharing everything, witnessing every peculiarity and nuance leered evident. They delighted in each other. He’d finally found someone to talk with who seemed to appreciate his viewpoint, enhancing his perspective. She was brilliant. They discussed David Foster Wallace’s essays and mutually conceded to his genius and humor. They read and conversed about numerous books and New Yorker articles. They talked about Shakur and Dr. Dre. She stressed the word, “PROSODY!” They cackled in rambunctious repartee. He said, “The problem with the English language is there is no single word to express both begin and end.” She blurted, “Beguine beyond bend, onomatopoeia! I win!” Their laughter resounded. He introduced Foucault and Baudrillard. She shrugged, “Yes, I know the names.” He brought up Pasolini. She quipped, “I’ve never heard of him, so he can’t be that important.” When he referenced Chrissie Hynde, Kathleen Hanna, Bill Callahan, her mind went blank. There were boundaries they were learning to live within. They each reformulated themselves to fit the other, gathering what they knew, making a nest together. He asked for duplicates of her book which she supplied. He distributed copies to his family and friends promoting her work to old contacts and new acquaintances. She pretended to be self-conscious, “Oh, be quiet, Odys, please,” while enjoying praise he encouraged around her. They were each accomplished in their fields, neither requiring validation from the other, yet it felt reaffirming to have someone rooting from sidelines.

She regularly wore reedy rectangular glasses (result of her issues with contact lenses) and seven years old scuffed-up gray with pink New Balance running shoes. He respected those shoes. He offered to buy her new ones but she gestured her hand away. She routinely wore her youngest sister’s castoff slim jeans and stained t-shirts. Most of her wardrobe was wrinkled and worn-out. He savored her scents but one muggy June night her feet were particularly pungent. He suggested an ayurvedic technique of exfoliating between toes soles ankles in shower. She resented his comment. After the incident he kept his mouth shut, never recommending modifications again.

Ophie wrote in Mom’s address book, “Odys’s sweetie.”  He admired her handwriting style and all her cultivated skills. She amended his prose proposing punctuation. She taught and he learned. She shared female grooming techniques, how to spray cologne above head then walk into mist so as not to smell too perfumed. Concerning shampooing she showed how to cup hand at hip to determine when conditioner was rinsed from hair. She demonstrated how to kick off jeans leaving them in sculptural pile on floor. She underlined and wrote notes in every book and magazine she read. Her palms and wrists were covered in inky scrawling. She often wore ink pen tucked in hair bun.

Perhaps he was letting his guard down too soon, offering up his trust to easily, but he starved for female companionship and mesmerized. He wanted to tell her, “Ophie, I love you,” but it was merely six weeks since they started seeing each other. She cautioned, “Baby steps, Odys, baby steps.” He coded the expression, “I of you.” She thought it cute and allowed it.

XV

The fawn colored room where they dwelled was originally his maternal grandmother’s bedroom. The beds belonged to his sister Penny when she was growing up. Mom’s building employed deskman garage man engineer and assistant. In good weather workman repaired outside surface of building moving up and down on scaffolds making loud noises nonchalantly looking in through windows. There was also a large overshadowing framework over driveway. The building faced out onto Lake Shore Drive and Oak Street Beach.

Ophie routinely allowed Odys to photograph her lounging nude. Odys shot hundreds of pictures. He shot a movie of her shaving her legs underarms and belly in bathtub, dated June 8, 5:58 pm. She insisted on maintaining smoothness. She adored wearing lingerie and owned vast collection. She sorted it into three categories: new, tried and true, and trashed. Odys marveled and Ophie proudly modeled. She generously gifted him anything he fancied from her dirtier assortment. He chose three soiled panties: one faded black, one tattered red, one sullied white.

They slept together every night. Ophie suffered insomnia. At sunrise he ran along lakefront. Sometimes she was still awake from 2 am. Following running, he stretched and practiced yoga. She talked about walking when he ran, doing yoga, working out but she never did. She liked watching porn. He shared his bookmarks. She learned he liked bush and let hers grow. He found a French girl named Amandine whose physical appearance resembled Ophie’s quite identically. They watched Amandine clumsily pleasuring four men. The two of them pointed at screen cracking up uproariously. She excitedly offered, “Let’s make a sex movie. I made several with Ryan. Remember, I told you about Ryan Dumont, the Atlanta attorney who bought my lingerie collection? We intended a ménage a trois with another woman, Ryan’s idea. Would you like to give it a try?” He smirked almost agreeing then muffled a sigh.

Ophie constantly brought up Tom discussing his flaws versus his potential. “He never showed concern for my writing until you asked for a copy of my book.” Odys accommodated, “Tom is capable of abstract thinking but his focus is history, not fiction.” She answered, “He called me stupid because I spilt a glass of water in the bathroom. Then he snapped a towel at me. We were always fighting, and I was always leaving, then coming back for more.”

XVI

She kept him rolling in laughter. She knew how to have fun, get loose and wild, her figure dancing in exotic ways (Zumba?) with gyrating hips undulating arms. Sometimes she danced while sitting in a chair or car seat. She told silly stories about her sorority sisters. “During rush week every recruiter voiced the same expressions when describing a pledge, ‘She’s sweet, cute, down to earth, and brings a lot to the table.’” She showed him secret handshake. He could hardly believe he was seeing a woman who was once a prom queen with sorority background social popularity and academically high achievement. He cleaned up after her, washed and folded her laundry, sewed her clothes, taped her purse together. She accompanied him to doctor and dentist. She was an unexpectedly attentive partner.

She exaggerated to the extreme, concocting versions then repeating them over and over as if with each retelling of story she achieved more realism until she was convinced it was what actually happened. He realized he could not count on her word. She was an unreliable witness. Odys, being a painter/writer, sanctioned her ardent imagination.

XVII

After drinking several glasses of wine and lively discussion of Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Illyich” at Shenan’s, they returned to Mom’s. She waltzed around kitchen repeating, “I want popcorn. I want popcorn.” He delighted in her childlike chant. She pleaded, “I want an old time popcorn maker so I can make fresh popcorn. Guess what? Mom has an unopened bag on the shelf.” She pointed he nodded and she retrieved it. They poured more wine then slinked into back bedroom.

She wore deep blue lacey brassiere and panties pulled down to ankle, she attacked him fervently. It was the best sex she’d given him. They were learning each other’s desires. Once she directed him to her backside. Thrilled by her bid he struggled to sustain, possibly due to preceding orgasm or performance anxiety. She comforted with reassuring words, “There’ll be plenty more occasions.” He answered, “Thank you.” Uncharacteristically, he enjoyed getting her off more than receiving pleasure. The next morning he bid on old fashion popcorn maker on EBay. The following week it arrived. He bought organic popcorn seeds and designer oil. Neither ever bothered to make popcorn.

Ophie wanted to stay in back bedroom, watch movies eat popcorn and drink wine. Odys was a homebody in Tucson, occasionally venturing out on Friday evenings for a margarita. Living at Mom’s was taxing. Mom’s telephone constantly rang. She spent hours gossiping, TV in background turned up loud regularly tuned to Judge Judy or Dr. Phil. She lived a hectic social life. He needed to get out of Mom’s house at night. During his childhood Mom unbridled harsh flare-ups. Aging had quieted her rages but on occasion she lost her temper at him. “I wish to god you had a kid just like you so you could feel what you do to me!” “I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to upset you. Please, forgive me.” Ophie witnessed incident. Afterwards Mom felt dreadful guilt. She consulted her internist. The doctor prescribed Lexapro and her disposition moderated.

XVIII

 Ophie and Odys frequented Shenan’s in early evenings. Aging drunks, quite the opposite of trendy, patronized the shot and beer pub. Many of the clientele were educated and accomplished including a judge, lawyers, traders, and other professionals. Lobos the bartender favored them, occasionally buying a round and chatting. Shenan’s was loud classic rock music playing from amped-up speakers, blaring TVs tuned to sports events, and voices ranting in background sometimes lively stimulating banter, other times vitriolic. Ophie remarked, “After you’ve had a few drinks, you slip into your Tucson cowboy accent.” Odys laughed at his unintentionally affected drawl. They sat close together sipping wine and quietly conversing. She confessed, “I need to start writing more, and find a job.” Her hips leaned into him. His arm hugged around her waist. She looked off to baseball game on overhead TV. He replied, “Yup, I understand what you’re saying. I want to resume painting. We ought to look for our own place. But for the moment, we’ve got all we need. Everything is taken care of. Let’s just enjoy this time together.”

Concerning Odys’s conversational manner, often he hit the target and other times improvising clumsily. He expressed impulsive naïve remarks, or asked exceedingly direct questions. His straightforwardness was a survival technique stemming from need to adapt to new schools new cliques temporary shelters of identity. He didn’t mean to pry and intended no mischief. Occasionally Ophie got provoked and challenged. “Learn segue, Odysseus!” He knew she was smarter and he admitted mistake. On another occasion she commented, “Odysseus, why are you so dense sometimes? Your amnesia, or lapses in understanding frustrate me. Why must you expend so much effort differentiating between analogy and metaphor, or irony and exaggeration?” He shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know. You’re a lot brainier than me, probably the brightest person I’ve ever been with. I’m grateful.”

Her body language regularly amazed him. While casually standing, her hand grasped other arm behind her back or she turned her legs out like a ballerina. Sometimes she slept on stomach with knees bent calves up and feet crossed in air. He was spellbound by her pose. He shot videos of her snoozing, dated May 26. When he told her what he’d done, she became furious refusing to view movies. She warned, “I’m a very private person!”

Memorial Day weekend after miscellaneous meal at Jack and Ellen’s house, they walked twenty blocks stopping outside her apartment building. She said, “Look how sunburn my shoulders are.” He pointed to her reddened nose and cheeks. His stomach felt distressed. He asked, “Could I run up to your place to use the washroom.” She emphatically answered, “No! No one comes into my house. Use the washroom across the street in the restaurant. After I look in on my cat, I’ll meet you there.” She said only her father had seen her place once when he helped her move. She described the apartment as drab rooms filled with hundreds of books lining shelves stacked on floor still unpacked in boxes and window looking north to dim-lit courtyard and alley. Her prize possessions were five fat dictionaries, one entirely devoted to etymology.

Ophie’s friend Kerrie frequently texted with frantic messages. Ophie explained Kerrie met men through lover.com, made wild sex then routinely never heard from them again, or if a man showed too much interest, she fled. Kerrie was desperate, plagued by need for intimacy, yet threatened by it. Odys guessed Ophie was sympathetic because she saw part of herself in Kerrie.

XIX

From emails and text exchanges, his sister Penny recognized how enamored the two of them were. On phone she commented, “Based on the joy in your voice, Odys, Ophelia sounds divine, and intellectually well-matched with you. Oh, Odys, you definitively deserve one another. I mean, both being writers, you can be useful for each other.” Odys yelled, “Yes!” Penny knew finding a steady girlfriend after so many years of isolation was a huge achievement for her brother. Growing up Penny and Odys were close but adulthood sent them on separate paths. Penny was always supportive and generous with Odys. He was grateful to have such a loving sister. Penny and her husband Doug offered airfare and use of their Muir Beach house for a week. Ophie and Odys accepted. On Friday morning of day they were to depart, Ophie became anxious, deciding not to go then changing her mind back and forth, texting, calling, finally insisting they go. It was a difficult exhausting day.

He crammed too much, clothes, computer, camera equipment, sex toys, into three heavy backpacks. Ophie traveled light with carry-on case on squeaky wheels and bulging shoulder bag. She insisted on hauling two of his packs atop her rolling racket trekking through airport terminals. She covered her head in hoody wore baseball cap over one eye, her gangster look. There was a photograph of her wearing black and blue striped long sleeve t-shirt skinny jeans lengthy pink scarf wrapped twice around neck arms crossed head tilting to one side slumped over asleep in chair at O’Hare airport, dated June 10, 7:14 pm.

Concurrently Penny arrived from San Francisco to same airline terminal. The three met briefly before their California flight. Ophie immediately began bashing Tom, calling him derogatory names. “What a fucking prick! I feel so liberated away from his abusive control. I am so lucky and happy to be with your brother.” Penny thought it odd Ophelia’s first comments were so venomously aimed at Odys’s old friend Tom Hill. They stopped at airport bar, watching flight times, each gulping glass of wine. Penny said, “I’m so glad to finally meet you in person, Ophelia.” Ophie answered, “Oh, please, just call me Ophie.” She chanted, “We’re going on vacation. We’re going on vacation.” On the way to departing gate she requested he buy several trashy celebrity magazines. Exhausted by day of anxiety attacks, she slept entire trip.

They landed under late night rainy sky flashing lights and vehicle accidents along highway. The narrow two-lane drive from Mill Valley over the hill to Muir Beach was scary to unfamiliar eyes especially under those weather conditions. She expressed fright, “We could crash tonight. Don’t let us die, Odysseus, Please.”  He gripped steering wheel focusing on Highway 1’s unpredictable pitched twists.

XX

The spacious two-story house with modern amenities modest by Penny and Doug’s standards yet luxurious by Ophie and Odys was situated on hill overlooking Muir Breach and Pacific Ocean beyond. In distance southern tip of San Francisco glimmered and to north treeless hill with rustic path. Saturday morning Ophie realized she lost her ID. They drove back to San Francisco Airport to retrieve it. At sunset they walked to Heron Inn in Muir Beach. The barroom was ruddy lit and cozy. They sat side-by-side nibbling salad fish and chips drinking Snakebites. She talked about studying in Oxford, a stone passageway leading to pub, and her friend Fred. “He wanted to marry me.” She stood up feeling overheated tugging off jacket, then sat down feeling chill and wrapping jacket over shoulders, animated and high-spirited. “Aren’t these Snakebites good!” Odys packed black thin cashmere cardigan she embraced. She kept it buttoned and wore it as pullover. Repeatedly she reinterpreted ways he’d never thought of. He wondered. Is this woman the love of my life?

He wanted to search through surf shops, try on board-shorts and t-shirts. Ophie tagged along. He bought her two pairs of Roxy flip-flops. They baked rhubarb pie and shared dinner with Penny’s close friends Danielle and aging Jean Paul in Stinson Beach. Driving in Penny’s 2003 Audi, Ophie insisted on listening to pop radio music. Her body kept rhythm in seat. He glanced enchanted while steering on winding road. They visited Bolinas Bay then drove north sniffing eucalyptus trees on way to Point Reyes Station. Later in week they met cousin Joan and husband Bill at Mill Valley café.

Returning from Heron Inn after dinner and several glasses of wine she instructed, “Pull down your jeans, and pour me more wine, not in that order.” Pushing him against wall she gripped hands around balls. He raised his arms overhead. She handled him roughly locking their bodies, pumping hard tightly squeezing forcing friction until he shot uncontrollably. She made the most rousing sex he’d experienced in years.

She wanted to visit small nude beach. When they arrived it was vacant overcast chilly. She took off jacket, sweater, t-shirt, bra. Her colorless arms and chest instantly sprouted goose bumps, nipples turning to small knots. Walking to waters’ edge she kicked off flip-flops but her toes curled in icy cold. He said, “Let’s try again tomorrow.” She gathered her clothes racing hollering, “I want salad, fish and chips, then sex, then more sex!”

Saturday morning they straightened house, laundered, packed, headed back to Chicago. At airport they discovered their flight was scheduled for tomorrow. He took fault on himself. They’d wasted whole day in preparation and transit. While waiting for air-porter back to Marin his hands trembled then he threw a fit slugging head like an imbecile. “What was I thinking? Fuck, I wasn’t thinking!” Ophie watched in silence. Riding on bus to Manzanita she nursed him with kind words. “It’s nothing, Odysseus. Quit being so hard on yourself. My dad makes mistakes like that all the time. He’ll laugh about this story.”

Back at house she asked him for glass of wine. They sat on deck and chatted until dusk. Several glasses later she said, “I need to pee. I feel sleepy. Let’s nap. Later make-out then eat.” She walked inside. He followed her into bathroom then bed. When they woke it was dark. He knotted her wrists and ankles to bedposts blindfolded her with Penny’s red silk scarf, then got her off three times even though she struggled after the first. Their safe word was “wolf.” He maintained he did not hear her call it out as he devoured her.

XXI

They returned to Chicago on Sunday June 19. During flight Ophie drank two glasses of champagne then asked for third. Her intoxication levels were increasing. She said, “I’ve got writer’s block. I need a job. Your family is getting on my nerves.” He kept the shelves supplied with wine. His family denied idiosyncrasies. “Everything is fine. We’re all easy to get along and talk with, like everyone else just normal regular people.” One cousin or more hit on her, she claimed. Unlike his family who were close and supportive, her family was distant and unseen. She sometimes touched on sibling rivalries, and an indulging father who drank too much. Her estrangement and loathing for her mother was a persistent theme. Her anger toward Tom exceeded all other topics.

Ophie occasionally made unbecoming remarks in front of his family and friends. “Odys doesn’t change his underwear for days,” or “He takes four times longer than me in the bathroom, sometimes preening for an hour.” She teased him about toothpicks and fingernail file on nightstand. She accused him of being borderline OCD, but not as bad as Tom. He didn’t mind at first but later thought there were early signs; sarcasm, irritability, denigration. On outward surface everything appeared happy. Ophie was right about a lot of things, but she was also incorrect about others.

Chicago summers were fraught with festivals and events yet they were slipping into lethargic impasse. As June’s muggy days grew longer and sun’s glare more intrusive she departed earlier, never lifting finger to straighten bed or her belongings. Typically she showed up at Shenan’s around 7:30 pm.

XXII

Saturday nights Mom met for dinner with extended group of widowed single women calling themselves “The Ladies Over Eighties.” It was reassuring. Cohabitating with Mom and Ophie was weird. There were sixty years between the women, and Odys was in the middle. Partnering with Ophie was invigorating and flattering. She charged him with shining hope. He felt vibrant and confident. She was his salvation and protection from being a lonely old man. Caring for Mom, he was learning what happens when people enter late phase life. She plodded punch-drunk. Mom was a persistent reminder of his ensuing mortality; her twisted arthritic fingers, wobbly gait ,wispy wild white hair, dizzy mindlessness. He recognized her incapability to be relevant and subsequent frustration. He loved her deeply and it disturbed him.

He became depressed, overwhelmed by the prospect of everything: aging, death, Chicago’s chilly cloudiness, living indoors, his painting career in a slump, finding agent to promote his work, decent place to live with meager resources, no car, other expenses, and winter coming. She commiserated with his anxiety and despair. There was a photograph of Ophie reading book by Walter Benjamin, seated with legs crossed wearing flip-flops green patterned sleeveless dress with black shoulder bag beside her in hospital foyer while waiting for Mom to be released from renal scan procedure, dated Wednesday June 22, 1:44 pm. Her eyes concentrating ink pen underlining word or phrase on page yet expression of compliant impatience lingering on her face.

Late afternoon sunlight glared in through back bedroom western windows. A shadow diagonally fell across her figure. Her eyes met mirror then glanced out doorway. She confessed, “I’m bored, and boredom is my hell.” Her smell turned sharp like vinegar. Perhaps she was beginning to see beyond their blissful veneer to uncertain future. Mom openly voiced, “I’m not in good shape financially.” The bank owned her condominium.

XXIII

Ophie brought up marriage. Odys rolled his eyes and grinned. He could think of nothing more wonderful, yet wasn’t certain he believed her. He wondered what she saw in him. Art compensated age discrepancy, but was it simply because both were writers, avid readers, visual art devotees, and difficult childhoods? He recognized her self-hatred and atelophobia. Was there a more compelling connection? Ophelia McGuiness was a nationally published author besides being gorgeous and entertaining. She could have any man she wanted. Was it foolish to think they could sustain a loving relationship? Odys examined his aging visage and physique in mirror. If not for Mom’s example and Ophie’s stimulus, it was easy to surrender to death. Did Ophie notice the lines in his face, enlarged pores on his nose, tiny barnacles growing on ever-thinning skin, cough and shortness of breath? Did she see his doubts and regrets, loss and sadness? Did she grasp all the possibilities that might have come about but were no longer plausible? He prayed she saw beyond his diminishments. He dreamed their concerted talent would catapult into spotlight. He was grateful her eyesight needed glasses. What did she see?

She woke in middle of night fleeing from unthinkable thoughts. It must have felt strange tip=toeing through Mom’s house in darkness as quietly as she could open another carafe, then finding room to drink while searching on her laptop. He found empty bottles hidden under her side of bed. He wondered if her insomnia involved more than sleeplessness. He pondered what her need for privacy meant. In the morning she woke groggy. Sometimes she ate part of bagel and glass of wine before parting increasingly earlier to tend her cat.

After showering together, she exited first and grabbed towel. He followed. She took another towel and began to dry his wet body. Unexpectedly she pulled towel away to wipe toilet seat. He asked, “What are you doing? I’m still dripping.”  She answered, “The toilet seat needs wiping. You’re way too OCD, Odys. Statistically, toilet seats have far less germs than you think.” He replied, “Now you want me to use that towel? Ophelia, it’s not right. Something is wrong.”

XXIV

One night after sex she bled. She previously expressed anxiety about missing her period, even taking a home pregnancy test. He asked, “Ophie, please help me change the sheets.” She lolled with drunken woozy grin. “Yeah, right,” rolling to other side of bed. He changed bedding then carried blood soaked sheets to laundry downstairs. When he returned she was spread out snoring. Some vague equation in their relationship was fluctuating. His family began noticing her inebriated sluggishness. He suggested she slow down on her consumption. “You’re becoming a lush.” She resented his comment, snapping back, “Fuck you, you spoiled brat.” When she was totally smashed, she walked catawampus in proud stride, shoulders pulled back chest out head held high.

He nuzzled in close beside her when she was deep asleep. He cherished feel of her body soft gentle curves sound of her breathing popcorn ball smell. He loved waking next to her, his hand reaching touching her silken animal fur. After she woke, she told him she was unaware of his cuddling. He started realizing how roughly she treated her often-bruised body beat-up clothes scratched electronic devices unkempt hygiene. These were qualities he formerly found endearing but his feelings were changing. In odd way witnessing his flawless angel sink into squalidness beguiled him. Ophie’s once dazzling remarks about literature now seemed governed by restrictions rather than liberating. She lost her headphones house keys phone charger his CTA card.

He shot many photos of her in June through July. They were of a deviant erotic nature and many since scattered and lost. She was the sick little princess and he the warped daddy doctor. He knew it was wrong yet continued playing into their aberrant codependency. The weather was heating to unseasonably high degrees. On Monday morning July 11 severe thunderstorms moved quickly across lakefront producing widespread wind damage.

XXV

Tom needed Ophie to take care of his cats while he was away. She agreed. Their lingering connection annoyed Odys. She questioned, “Are you jealous of Tom?” He told her no. Tom was ten years younger taller handsome and ran a successful framing business. He paid Ophie’s iPhone bill (compensation for allegedly giving her four STDs). Maybe Odys did worry about Tom’s grip on Ophie. Tom offered her salary for copyediting his business promotions. Several times more Tom asked Ophie to tend his cats. She always complied.

She began revealing stories about other boyfriends and curious sexual involvements. Her word for these involvements was “making-out.” She bragged about instances with Atlanta attorney Ryan Dumont. She revealed Tom Hill’s preferences were rather boring favoring missionary position and refusing oral or anal. Odys wondered how Ophie with all her wild carnal cravings contained herself with Tom.

Odys visited art supply store, bought twelve 30”x22” Strathmore paper sheets and charcoal and erasures. He laid out pages on drop cloth on carpeted floor in back bedroom. He requested Ophie get naked. He instructed her to massage vaseline into her rectum. She questioned, “Are you serious? Odys, what are you up to?” He inserted chubby charcoal stick with several inches protruding. She remarked, “You are so weird and sick and perverted!” He suggested, “Draw some loops or your name. Start with a big O.” His hands gently firmly pushed down on her shoulders. Tiny charcoal slivers snapped off and smudged. He laid her body over the markings and drew outline of her physique, dated July 13. Later while she showered he stashed drawings in large black portfolio in closet to be reworked when they found place of their own.

They sat at Shenan’s and drank. Her feet planted firmly on floor, hips leaning against barstool, attention hunted past him to empty stage behind bar then out towards street traffic. He asked, “Did you do anything today?” She answered, “Play with my cat. Try to write. Clean house. Nap.” He was puzzled by her dismissiveness. Maybe she experienced cathartic equanimity in cleaning her house. He wondered about her imperative for secrecy. Maybe there was another explanation for her four STDs. It struck him maybe Tom’s adamant denial of culpability was worth reassessment. He didn’t know what to think. He considered unsavory thoughts yet dared not dwell on them. He cherished her and hoped her affections were reciprocal. He wondered if it was he who was incapable at sustaining love, him with all his distorted suspicions.

In restless sleep he dreamed they were walking near her apartment building. A passing stranger nodded with acquainted grin as if he knew Ophie. The stranger asked if she was available later. Ophie gripped Odys’s arm and hurried away. When he woke she was gently snoring in bed beside him. He pondered. Dreams are dangerous. There are no restraints on one’s inner fears and desires. Dreams are free to run wild.

XXVI

There was a photograph of Ophie head turned sideways eyelids shut pouty smirk perched on lips hair tousled thin strip fallen along right ear almost resembling long brown sideburn wrists tied with straps purplish fingers limply fisted middle finger protruding turquoise blue t-shirt pulled up exposing nipples legs opened wide long violet bruise along left inner calve hot pink panties haphazardly wrapped around right ankle, dated July 16, 8:53 am. Next to her on wooden nightstand half filled glass of wine beige tissue box stack of books sandwiched between magazines several ink pens small nail scissors lime green box of chewy candy black TV remote. On taupe colored carpet large empty wine bottle and pink cased iPhone attached to charger cord. 

He got her off in usual way gently stroking admiring sucking but she seemed distracted. Her attention turned to window. He sensed she yearned for something more. He questioned, “Was I too hurried, or methodical? Do you want toys, or something else?” She shrugged flatly replying, “No.”

XXVII

Tuesday July 18, 11 am, they went to a haircut School offering $16.00 cuts no tipping. She got hers styled to shoulder length. He commented, “Interesting. It will grow back.” She scoffed at his comment. He swallowed his words realizing how attractive she looked. Ophie never fussed like other women.

Later in day they heard news of the painter Cy Twombly’s death. Both agreed he was one of their favorites. They googled him and viewed his scribbly work. Ophie said, “You really need to start painting again, Odysseus.” He answered, “Yes, I know, but where, how?” Inwardly he questioned his edge and play to resume prior identity. He began bumming cigarettes from people at Shenan’s (a habit he’d pointedly quit numerous times before). Within a week he bought a pack she carried in her shoulder bag, then he began smoking regularly and kept a pack on him. He continued running in mornings but for no apparent reason he stopped doing yoga.

 They slept with air-conditioner humming every night. She complained about her clammy apartment and people on CTA bus mostly unwelcomed men. He complained about his entire present existence. They each formed unspoken assumptions and expectations about their relationship together. Both were changing and displeased with the other yet unaware of transformations within themselves. Maybe what originally attracted them to each other was what they didn’t know about the other. And maybe what they were starting to feel was a subconscious contempt for the other.

Sometimes she carped about past he didn’t know, a previous workplace manager who she alleged harassed her. She successfully schemed to get the person fired. He tried to be a good listener but she was filled with angry judgments towards many: cab drivers, sales clerks, her sisters, Tom Hill, her mother, etc. Her anger worried him. Gradually she stopped referring to him as “Handsome.” Not that he needed to hear her praises but it was reassuring. She said, “Thanks for putting up with me. I apologize for being a bother. I of you.” He answered, “You’re not a bother, and I’m not putting up with you. I love being around you, Ophie. I’m on your side. I of you too.”

XXVIII

Penny and husband Doug offered again their Muir Beach house for a week. They flew to California a second time on July 21. Ophie’s moodiness was becoming more apparent. She angered easily and found nothing to laugh about. They canceled planned dinner dates with Danielle and Jean Paul then Joan and husband Bill.

They sat on upstairs deck in midafternoon watching massive hawk perch in nearby tree. She appeared preoccupied, hand canopying brow, eyes glued to Ann Beattie’s “The New York Stories.” He wondered what she was seeing in him that turned her off. Restlessly he suggested they drive to Mill Valley. Ophie was no longer interested in exploring surf shops. He scanned display case, sunglasses, wristwatches, necklaces, surf wax, then out window onto parking lot. She sat waiting in car typing on laptop. He sensed she wanted more creative engagement. He sensed they were becoming disjointed. He didn’t want to think about his feelings because thinking triggered fear. He was afraid to talk about his worries, afraid to make waves. He was hoping things might simply work themselves out.

Saturday July 23 half moon night, TV news reported terrible tragedy in Norway then Amy Winehouse found dead. Odys stepped out on upstairs deck to smoke one of Penny’s cigarettes stashed in freezer. He purposely neglected bringing smokes to California. Ophie sipped last of her glass then went to bed. The sound of waves crashing against shore lulled her to sleep. He looked out at dark ocean, hazy distant lights of San Francisco then up at starry sky. The morning was doused in dense gray fog. It was more than climatic. The fog seeped into them, into their psychic emotional depths, an all-consuming otherworldly fog. He did not handle stress well and she was extremely stressing out. He asked, “What’s wrong?” She would not tell. As they drove north from Stinson Beach on Highway 1, the fog snaked across road obscuring visibility. She froze in major anxiety attack gasping for breath panting. “Turn off the radio! Pay attention to the road!” He answered, “I’ve got both hands on the wheel, Ophelia. We’re almost home. Breathe, calm slow deep breaths. We’ll be okay.” Later she irritably sulked about northern California’s roadways and weather. She refused to share her blue seashell collection. He went for walk alone to rocky beach. He considered entering ocean and not returning. She submerged herself in Sunday New York Times magazine. They both were behaving like foolish children. She deprived him of sex the entire week.

Thursday July 28, gray late morning while reading rough draft of her new writings it struck him several pages seemed out of sequence. He asked, “I’m not sure why these fit here?” later admitting it was insensitive remark. Her face flushed feverish eyes madly darting then she went ballistic. “Quit reading my work!” He pleaded with her, “I apologize. My mistake. Ophelia, please, forgive me. Let’s just go to lunch. You like that seafood restaurant in Bolinas. Let’s go there.” She furiously grabbing shoulder bag avoiding eye contact marching to car sitting in silence. No matter how grouchy or harsh she turned, he adored her. He loved her at her best and worst. She was who he wanted to be with. A month later she admitted second California trip was turning point.

XXIX

On yet another inebriated occasion she confessed, “I could get hit by a cab, or stung by a bug, or shot by stray bullet. I might die before you.” He questioned, “Why would you think that?” She answered, ”I don’t know,” glancing away. He thought about her mother’s desertion, Ophie’s secret illnesses, predisposed premature fragility, her drama. He worried. He thought about her. Possibly to overcompensate for being heartlessly trashed by Tom, she needed to feel worshipped. More than sufficiently loved she yearned for her childhood glory, the Ophelia McGuiness fan club. Also she desperately longed to make right the hurt little girl her mother walked away from. And she urgently aspired literary accolade.

She called him her fiancé. He’d never before been referred to as “fiancé.” She picked out stylish J. Crew bride’s dress on internet catalogue. A female Facebook friend commented, “Why spend so much for J. Crew?” Ophie pledged a not too huge wedding at Penny and Doug’s Muir Beach house. It was a weird promise. They talked about winter spring. Marriage brought up serious concerns: responsibility, commitment, ownership, eternalness. He adored her and was willing to sacrifice anything. He wondered why she suddenly was so ready to give herself away to him? When would her moodiness calm? She acknowledged his uncertainty. She made recommendations: the Art Institute, MCA, Poetry Center, the zoo, yoga in Millennium Park, exploring other parts of city, making art, seeing a therapist. He simply wanted to stay in bed and make-out with her. She was his fix.

Ophie’s conduct swerved, inflection distorted turning sharp cutting. She converted to dominant and sadistic, announcing, “You do none of the work. I do it all!” He was accustomed to strong volatile women, raised in house of dynamic females. He loved Ophie and didn’t want to lose her. He tried to make adjustments, rearranged bathroom shelves, dental items on lower shelf, sunblock moisturizers on second shelf, perfumes on third, eye-make-up and cosmetics on top, more drawer space in bedroom. She snapped, “I don’t care about shit like that.” She nit-picked his words, seeming to take pleasure making him feel awful about himself. She called him “a narcissist queer” and habitually stepping grinding her soles into his track shoes. “I’m breaking those Adidas puppies in for you.” Her vanity loomed, bossing, "Go do my fetching, boy!" A voice inside him roared. Stand up. Be a man. Stop giving in to her. Deep down he knew she was a kind gentle person. He didn’t understand what was churning inside her. Many times he asked, “What’s upsetting you? What’s happening between us?” She gave no answer. Her sarcasm (she called it irony) revved. Sometimes she seemed as if she were taking advantage. She ordered, "Get me my wine." She continued withholding sex. Mom was rebounding well from her surgeries. Possibly Ophie envisioned an unending situation. It wasn’t just her transformation. He was sinking deeper into dark boundless hole. Ophie witnessed his descent for weeks.

XXX

Tuesday August 2 Ophie accompanied Odys to hospital to undergo colonoscopy, a procedure she insisted on if they were to have a future. He felt the defeatism of aging. The following weekend Ophie flew to Charlotte to visit and collaborate with her photographer friend Robert. She suffered anxiety tremors delaying her departure and bumping airline ticket on several occasions finally departing days later. Returning from Charlotte she accused, “You resented me visiting Robbie from the start.” “Ophelia, I assure you that’s not true. I’m happy you saw Robert and his family. Why are you being so difficult?” Her eyes looked away. She told about late night discussions with Robert, her newest writing, art and other projects. He inquired about Zeiss 35mm camera he gave her to gift Robert. She replied, “Yes, Odysseus, Robbie liked it. Don’t make such a big deal.”

He bought welcoming home present for her, navy blue cashmere silk Alexander McQueen skull print muffler. She glimpsed at scarf wrapped in paper in box in mock approval. He asked, “I don’t understand. Do you like it?” She shrugged indifferently. “It’s cool, fine, whatever.” She left gift untouched on dresser. He felt misused. He swallowed half of Mom’s sleeping pill.

XXXI

Tuesday August 9, 4:31 am text message:

Ophie: “congratulations on welcoming me home by being incredibly abusive”

Odys: “i can’t believe this is happening. we did not discuss anything except maybe in your head.”

Ophie: “you were so out of it last night i could not understand 90 percent of what came out of your mouth and you tried to put my jeans on several times before walking into furniture. i don’t know what you are taking but it makes you scary”

Odys: “i have no recall.”

Ophie: “I don’t know if i want to speak with you soon. last night was terrible, the windup. i didn’t even cut when i was with Tom”

Distended moon low in sky, she slashed nine wounds to left hip. She revealed she hadn’t cut since her mother. When he saw her mutilation he cringed cried out, “No, no, oh god, no!” He fled into dining room paced around table in circles fists clenched. In reckless haste he called Tom. “Did you know she’s a cutter!” Tom replied, “I warned you, she’s trouble.” He returned to back bedroom. She sat cross-legged on bed viewing laptop. He asked, “When you were seeing Tom, did the subject of cutting ever come up?” She answered, “He would not tolerate it.” She explained her disclosure was measure of deep trust. She clarified, “Cutting is a psychiatric disorder, a deliberate, non-suicidal self-injury recognized as NSSI, also common in certain species of birds and animals.” He felt confused. He asked permission to take pictures of her carvings to quell his horror. She agreed. There were a series of photographs documenting her carvings to left hip, dated Tuesday August 9, 4:18 pm. She wore pale pink pleated panties with urine stains and gashes appearing red and sore.

They regularly held hands while walking but after Charlotte they let go. At her suggestion he ceased accompanying her to bus stop. Family and acquaintances saw pained look in Odys’s face. Ophie was becoming a liability. She staggered in alcoholic stupors spilling wine glass crashing shoulder bag on floor toppling over chairs bumping into things. She threw her hands in air eyes glazed acting unconcerned.

XXXII

He told Penny he felt repressed and suffocated yet still felt deeply in love with Ophie. He recognized anger swelling inside her, living in Mom’s fenced in proper and prohibitive domain. And fury within herself, frustration finding a job, expectation to follow-up with another professionally accredited publication. And rages relating to her dependency on Odys, his inertia to paint, write, practice yoga, embarrassing himself in rash predicaments. She accused, “You do bad shit to me, Odysseus!” He answered, “Ophelia, you do bad shit to me.” They walked at widening distance.

His reaction was to keep up with her drunken excess. He had an amplified view of himself, believing he was an adult male in control of his conduct. He’d resigned from drugs twenty years ago. He was a yoga instructor. His conduct didn’t make sense. Prior to leaving Chicago he’d missed valued opportunities in feral affairs with women. He was grateful for experiences yet practiced in skill of escape artist. Loving someone as deeply as Ophie was pursuit he had not endeavored. Twenty years of isolation hid a lot of problems. Ophie was witnessing a different person than the man she’d originally fallen in love with. In his place was a muddled hardened drinker/smoker trying to cope with Chicago, declining mother, his own destructive tendencies. She remarked, “Where’s the good Odys?” Was his behavior fittingly troublesome to cut herself? Months later in reflection he tried to understand what was it that brought out the worst in both of them?

On Wednesday, August 17, after she left for her place, he opened laptop and found she neglected logging out of her email. He noticed an exchange between Ophie and Tom. He opened it. She wrote, “i got antsy” Tom replied, “it was nice to see you” She did not mention her visit with Tom to Odys. He also observed many messages from male members at lover.com (the website Kerrie utilized to meet men) but he thought it wisest not to snoop further.

XXXIII

On Thursday evening at comedy performance at Shenan’s, Ophie flirted with young bearded comedian then volunteered to be a judge. She was drinking heavily, vastly exaggerating her scores. Midway through show she wandered out. He waited, swallowed gulp then trailed. Walking he texted, “Ophelia, please go back to your place tonight, and we can talk in the morning” She sat on stairs outside Mom’s building. He watched her from distance for what seemed painfully long time. He sent six more texts pleading. He saw her calling someone. He approached questioning, ”Are you calling Tom?” She denied it. He offered to pay cab fare but she told him a friend was coming. “Who?” he pressed but she withheld answering. Lakefront winds whipped along Lake Shore Drive tossing her hair wildly. A shiny light colored Porsche SUV pulled into driveway. It could have been anyone, and anyone would have been less threatening. This was the person Ophie vented about throughout their entire relationship. Door opened she slid near to Tom. Odys overheard her saying, “Hello, Handsome.” Her hand reached for Tom’s thigh as car door slammed shut. There was frozen instant as Odys stood alone, then Tom spun steering wheel, gesturing goodbye wave, pushing down on gas pedal. They drove away.

Friday morning he texted her several times. She did not respond. Later on phone Ophie admitted sleeping with Tom. Odys felt kicked in stomach. Cutting herself was dreadful enough but sleeping with Tom was an attack. Nothing cut deeper than betrayal. His insecurities booted up. He lost it idiotically over-reacting. Outside, Black Hawk helicopters roared then an F-22 whizzed by. It was the weekend of Chicago Air and Water Show. The bursting sounds were unnerving. He gathered her four months of belongings into six large shopping bags. He packed up her cosmetics, the panties she gave him, the wrist and ankle straps he’d bound her in, the anthologies her stories were included in, the box of family and friends snapshots she’d analyzed in detail with him, her sweaters and t-shirts that he’d sewn up, drawer full of candy and junk food. He brought them down to building’s receiving room. He stashed still unwrapped scarf in closet. He deleted her account from his computer, indicating on Facebook he was single again. Within hours she clicked she “liked” that.

XXXIV

Friday night August 19, Ophie called asking if she could sleep over. Aware they socially separated from each other, Odys thoughtlessly, knowing her wounds were still tender and stinging yet hopeful for sex and reconciliation, agreed. They met at bus stop then walked to Mom’s. Ophie seemed particularly perturbed complaining about some Jesus weirdo on bus who harassed her. Odys begged, “Please, let’s be kind, gentle with each other.” Ophie knew when she showed up that night she’d already confessed to betrayal kiss. She knew six large bags of her belongings were packed and waiting in building’s receiving room. Stomach rumbling inside he thought to question. Why did you come? You slept with Tom last night. You ate breakfast with him this morning. You wouldn’t answer my texts. Did you bother to bathe? What are you doing here?

When they arrived upstairs she plopped on bed ankles crossed arms outstretched ordering, “Get me my wine.” He hoped she might ask more conciliatory, considering her transgression night before. He wondered if she thought she could let herself go completely and see what she could get away with now that she’d slept with Tom? They shared a large bottle of wine. Ophie viciously accused, “You’re Mom’s errand boy. Think about what you do. You’re killing time waiting for Mom to die so you can collect a measly inheritance. Fuck you and your whole fucking family! You’re a bunch of elitist hypocrites who believe you’re entitled to better than everyone else.” He answered, “Ophelia, is that what you think?” She raised her hand pointing finger. “Where’s that extravagantly costly scarf you bought me. I need to take it home in the morning. I’ve promised to send it to a dying friend. It will bring him joy.” He said, “Ophelia…I bought it for you.” They were numb drunk. She slipped the remark, “Your neck looks like an old turkey’s!” He suffered throat cancer in 1995 and radiation left slackened skin. He answered, “Oh, yeah?” She sneered, “Yeah!” He turned away reaching for other half of Mom’s sleeping pill on dresser top then swallowed. Ophie watched him gulp. She stalked ferocious. He retreated to bathroom lying on cold tile floor feet pressing against door to prevent her from entering. She frantically banged head hurled body violently kicked against door. She hollered, “Let me in, goddamnit! Let me in!” He answered, “Please, leave me alone. Please, I need to be away from you tonight, Ophelia. Please…just let me sleep.” She wouldn’t stop hammering door. He stumbled out of bathroom. Their bodies collided. He felt something hard hit his forehead.

He woke up with headache and pounding left eye. He searched room but she wasn’t there, not a trace. The sheets were skewed empty bottle and two glasses scattered across carpeted floor. He wandered into bathroom glancing in mirror. He photographed his reflection with reddened puffy eyelid and split lip, dated Saturday August  20, 7:33 am.

XXXV

Rain poured under leaden skies. 9 am Ophie called insisting, “ You need to take me to breakfast.” He showered, applied touch of Penny or Mom’s foundation makeup so as not to reveal reddened eye and wore sunglasses. She’d spent the night at Kerrie’s. He picked her up in cab. She sat stiff facing straight ahead. Seeing her in that condition was extremely upsetting. He cast his eyes away. Last night’s skirmish was sinking in.

She pushed her fork through omelet sampling bites. She accused, "Look what you fucking did to me." His eyes peered over sunglasses at her face then searched down nervously at his uninjured fingers. He submissively whispered, "You think I’m entirely responsible? " She growled loudly, "You fucking sick lying bastard, you and your whole fucking family." People looked around. He tersely replied, “Let’s not make a scene in public.” His left eye throbbed. He licked his split lip then signaled waitress for check. He asked Ophie what she wanted to do. She replied, "Go back to your Mom's. I want a glass of wine, then nap." He said, “That’s not a good idea.” She wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was still dark gray and drizzling outside. They cabbed back to Mom's building. Each stared through separate windows. There seemed nothing to say. The clouds began clearing. Jets blasted echoing through sky.

When they arrived upstairs she ordered, "Get my wine!" Next she commanded, "Bring Mom in here. I want her to see what you did." Odys alerted Mom then paced around dining room table. Mom claimed when she entered back bedroom she saw Ophie hitting head against bathroom door. Mom suggested, “Ophie, sweetheart, why don’t you apply some makeup to conceal your bruising.” Ophie retorted, “No! I want the world to see what your son did to me.”

Of her own volition Ophie insisted they go to hospital to confirm she did not suffer concussion or broken bones. He obsequiously accommodated. In Emergency Room she remarked, “Why so serious? You’re supposed to make me laugh.” They held hands. The doctors examined, took ex-rays and found nothing fractured. After they departed ER she wanted two more glasses of wine at nearby café. She said, “I’ve heard dreadful stories about the violent effects of being under hypnotic-sedatives. We can work this out. There’s hope for you, Odysseus.” He hung his head. They walked to express bus heading north. She boarded, waved through window then she was gone. That was the last time he actually ever saw her.

XXXVI

Returning to her separate world Ophie enlisted support from family and friends inciting calumnious crusade. “He used me like a punching bag. He hospitalized me!” No longer her fiancé Odys was a monster. She exaggerated to the extreme concocting versions then repeating them over and over as if with each retelling of story she achieved more realism until she was convinced it was what actually happened. He began receiving malicious emails and internet comments. One critic wrote, “I heard you put a woman in hospital. Can you give me some advice on beating women? I don't care for your hackish art, but it is all over the Internet that you are a sick fuck. Does it feel good? Did you feel tough? Why haven't you killed yourself? Please do.”

He felt profound remorse. These were family and friends whom he was going to belong with. He remembered a McGuiness Christmas picture card of Ophie her siblings and father. The loss was overwhelming. What Odys did was wrong. He should never have hit back. Men don’t hit women. It was the cardinal rule. He didn’t know how to forgive himself. He shuddered at thought of his actions. He spoke with no one, the loss too great to enunciate. His existence became unbearable. He’d never known such unhappiness. His neurosis’s mushroomed, immune system imploded. His voice faintly rasped, stomach dropped spilling out everything, lungs filling with liquid. He felt his head pushed under, gasping breathless. He lost his appetite subsequently lost thirty pounds. He began walking with heavy thumping right step tripping on street curb then stairs. He was no longer himself. He felt lost unknowing what to do. He lost self-assurance, greeting, smile. Labor Day weekend he lost pricey prescription sunglasses. He neglected family gatherings. Mom said, “If you’re just going to sit there glum and silent, then don’t come.” Weeks went then months without Ophie and Odys seeing each other. In her absence he morphed into her character: her boredom, restlessness, panic attacks, exhaustion, insomnia.

XXXVII

There were lengthy scrolls of text exchanges and frequent phone calls. Sometimes she spoke tenderly, wanting to hear his voice, know how he was, expressing concern. She confessed she’d starting throwing up again, could not sleep because of night terrors, and sobbing in public. Other times she was manic. She kept repeating, “You beat the shit out of me! You kicked my ass, you fucking son-of-a-bitch. Man-up! Do you have the moral courage to face your actions? Where is your will to own up?” “I’m sorry. It was a stupid night. Don’t I have a right to defend myself? Ophie, please, understand.” She hollered, “You were defending yourself? Oh-my-fucking-god, I hate you!” He’d grown dependent on her approval and now she was gone. He staggered in disbelief, being so vulnerably intimate then abruptly target of her wrath. His thoughts went blank except remembering her wild eyes fuming expression. Blaming himself he felt tormented. Nothing certainly not her cheating justified violence.

The question of why kept resurfacing. Why did she hit him? Why did he strike back? Neither was prone to violence nor willing to admit how smashed they were. Could she have misinterpreted his exit from bathroom as assault? Could he have mistaken the source of first slam to his eye possibly Ophie’s elbow raised in defense or corner of wall? He was desperate to find explanation. He called several woman friends. One former lover remarked, “You always turn inward in a crisis, Odys. The only time I’ve ever heard you raise your voice was to tell a story.” How was he to live with himself? What dark regions within him had he yet to discover? He realized everything he’d worked for his entire adult existence was irrecoverably defeated. Odys lost Ophie. He felt undeserving of love. He wanted to vanish.

Ophie demanded he see a doctor and psychiatrist. He followed her instruction. The doctor prescribed Clonazepam to calm panic attacks. Odys asked, “Am I dying?” The doctor answered, “No, Odys, you don’t have a disease. You have a condition brought on by extreme stress.” The psychiatrist prescribed Trazodone for insomnia. After perusing Ophie’s nationally published book the psychiatrist said, “Ms. McGuiness’s problems go way back, possibly child sexual abuse. The psychiatrist paused, clearing his throat. “You’re fragile by nature, Odys. I hope you find the strength to never speak to her again. Concerning your right foot, I’m guessing drop foot, a neuromuscular disorder. Did you indicate the symptoms to your internist?”

XXXVIII

September 16, 8:48 pm, text messages.

Odys: “you have the sexiest vagina of any woman I’ve ever been with, and you’re also the smartest coolest but we just argue, don’t get along, you’re a total bitch to me, I need harmony”

Ophie: “I’m a total bitch?”

Odys: “yup, you’ve called yourself a bitch many times”

Ophie: “not a total bitch. and it’s called irony”

Odys: “you criticize, taunt, emasculate.”

Ophie: “i criticize you for doing things like beating me up. if you feel emasculated bc i have a strong personality that’s yr issue. also this taunting thing is totally made up and please stop saying the only positive attribute i have is my vagina. it’s misogynistic. and you won’t see it again so get over it”

Odys: “your irony oppresses. It is an expression of the trapped who possess their cage”

Ophie: “this whole relationship was a cage, please stop texting me”

September 26, 3:45 am, text messages.

Odys: “are you up? remember when you actually liked me?”

Ophie: “it’s easy to like people when you don’t know them well”

Odys: “you wrote in Mom’s address book ‘Odys’s sweetie’ what makes you think you know me any better just because of one stupid night we both regret? consider how much love we provided each other”

Ophie: “it’s not about one night. that was just the tipping point”

Odys: “who knows where your heart is. wish you would have clued me in”

Ophie: “same place it always is”

Odys: “yeah, right”

Ophie: “I’ve been changing. you knew i wasn't happy. my heart is fine. i think my brain was making some bad decisions”

October 8, 7:48 pm, text messages.

Odys: “i know you’re angry at me. yell if you need. i deserve it. i’m sorry. i think about how it happened every day. i miss you so bad, wish there was a way back into your arms. honestly, i didn’t realize how unhappy you were”

Ophie: “you are sort of clueless”

Odys: “yup”

Ophie: “V frustrating”

Odys: “i apologize. i have moments of clarity. i wish i was bright as you. you're amazing.”

Ophie: “you use that as an excuse”

Odys: “and gorgeous too. i just wish i was articulate like you.”

Ophie: “i'm never making out w you again. you have a brain, use it”

Odys: “why did you keep smashing your head, body against bathroom door? why didn't you stop?”

Ophie: “hand not body, bc you were so effed up”

Odys: “i wasn’t as effed up as more needing release from your harassing. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me, baby”

Ophie: “don’t ever use that term with me. i will never be your baby. don’t ever call me that!”

Odys: “ok, i’m sorry”

Ophie: “quit telling me you’re sorry i’m sick of hearing your apologies. you’re a sociopath”

Odys: “please, Ophie, forgive me. i of you”

Ophie: “leave me the fuck alone”

XXIX

He guessed she was back with Tom. What made her want to go back? The comfort of returning to what was familiar, or lesser evil? Money promised for writing business promotions? Did she long for Tom’s verbal psychological abuse? Or did it go deeper? Did Tom signify her mom? Could that be all she knew to go to fulfill her defeat by her mother? Had Odys merely been a method to chastise Tom? It confounded him, all Tom’s partialities she claimed objection to, the large meaty breakfasts, vast designer wardrobe, ski and boating club memberships with shallow acquaintances. Did she honestly admire his status pursuits?  Odys wondered how far from truth her stories spun. He realized their heated clash pushed her to seek protection, the same safety he needed when she cheated with Tom.

Winds swirled. Brittle golden leaves fell from trees cluttering streets with debris. Rain made mushy mess. Muammar Gaddafi was killed October 21. Mom’s 91 birthday was October 26. Odys felt like he’d blown the supreme opportunity of his life. There was nothing else to hope for. On Halloween night he swallowed handfuls of pills. He did not intend to kill himself or that was what he told the psychiatrists. In truth he wanted to die many times.

XL

First night at psychiatric ward lying in hospital bed Odys recalled Ophie swearing, “I’ve never cheated on a boyfriend. I’ve always been true, faithful, devoted.” She also boasted, “We McGuiness’s fight dirty!” Even with heavy dosage of sleeping pills the hospital staff administered he could not sleep. He was filled with terrible sense of loss and sorrow. He conceived unnerving sadistic dreams. Next day a clinician inserted thick gauge catheter in his back to drain fluid build-up around right lung. The following nights at psychiatric ward he wanted to see feel nothing. Assigned psychiatrist prescribed 300 milligrams of Trazidone per night. Drifting off to deep slumber in back of mind he heard repeating, “I of you, Ophie, I of you.”

After hospital stay they talked on phone. He confessed, “I’m a fucked-up person, Ophelia. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but there’s something definitely wrong. How are…how are you?” Ophie scornfully replied, “So, your fucking crazy cry for help was heard. I wish you had killed yourself. You deserve to die. I fucking hate you, and want to erase you.” He did not voice a sound. Her vindictiveness intensified, “Someday I might write about your fucked-up-ness, and make a bajillion dollars.” She hated and feared him and that was what hurt most. His greatest love hated and feared him. Didn’t she know him better than to think he could intentionally inflict pain on her or anyone? He replied, “Ophelia, please don’t hate me. Please, don’t hate yourself. I love you, Ophelia. I of you.”

He was devastated by her betrayal. What intimate secrets and derogatory remarks had she begun to blather with Tom and her family? Monday November 14, he wrote down unnerving sadistic dreams he’d conceived in loony bin, in which he clearly stated he was incapable of enacting, and sent them to her. He perceived it as emotional literary release, hoping she as writer would appreciate the effort. He neglected to foresee she would publicly divulge his darkest visions. Ophie filed for order of protection. He never tried to contact her nor have they seen or spoken with each other again.

XLI

She visited him in dreams. Sometimes they were still lovers fooling around laughing. He tells her, “Ophie, I of you, always will. I promise I’ll never make any more mistakes.” Then waking in half sleep he utters, “Ophelia, we can’t see each other anymore. Please, go away. Leave me alone. Let go. Please, go away.” Her pale haunting ghost continued to flicker in his thoughts.

 

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