Johnny America


A Farewell


Illustration of a Mont Blanc pen.

What the hell, he groused, drop­ping his Mont Blanc on the desk and putting the iMac to sleep. Once again, noth­ing doing.

It was noon so he es­caped to the kitchen, switched on NPR, warmed the bean soup, sliced a baguette, and poured a glass of ap­ple cider to the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of the lat­est foul news. Pol­i­tics is seep­ing un­der the doors, he thought, ooz­ing down chim­neys, snug­gling up in queen-sized beds, rid­ing shot­gun in SU­Vs, in­sin­u­at­ing it­self in­to class­rooms, com­muter trains, ap­pro­pri­at­ing every con­ver­sa­tion. Good gov­ern­ment, like good art, would con­ceal it­self. That’s what he thought and was sur­prised when two lines popped in­to his head:

 … O that I were young again

And held her in my arms.

He chuck­led bit­ter­ly. Yeats wrote that in the 1930s when mon­sters were on the thrones and pol­i­tics was lethal. Thomas Mann was right about the pri­or­i­ty of pol­i­tics, but Yeats de­murred be­cause he was, well, Yeats.

Soup, bread, and cider con­sumed, his eye­lids be­gan to feel heavy. A nap? Am I that de­feat­ed, that old, Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty whined. And Ob­jec­tiv­i­ty replied, You bet.

On his way to the stairs he glanced rue­ful­ly at his desk. The aban­doned work lay there— sup­ply with­out de­mand. He felt like a ten-year-old who nev­er got a hug, let alone a dog.

He start­ed up the steps in the cer­tain­ty that one page of a Brod­sky es­say would be suf­fi­cient to send him in­to obliv­ion, when the door­bell blared. It scared him, that in­hu­man half-bell, half-buzz that came with the house. It was like an air-raid alert, wak­ing him just in time to see the fa­tal flash. How long had it been since he’d heard that aw­ful door­bell? Six months? A year? Come to that, how long since any­body else had set foot in his house? Must be a brace of Jehovah’s Wit­ness­es. Couldn’t be the mail­man. UPS? Had he or­dered some­thing? Nev­er mind, he thought, and con­tin­ued bedwards. 

Again, the in­sis­tent bell, two quick jolts. FedEx would just have dumped what­ev­er it was and left by now. He con­tem­plat­ed hid­ing. Late­ly, he ap­proached any en­counter as he might a du­el. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d wait­ed out the Wit­ness­es. When the bell shrieked a third time then a fourth, it felt like the se­cret po­lice were about to flat­ten the door. Should he go to the basement? 

Steel­ing him­self, he went back down the steps and man­ful­ly opened the door. It was a woman, a good-look­ing young woman. He rec­og­nized her at once. But that was im­pos­si­ble. It had been decades — how could she look the same as she did then, the same as she still did in his con­cu­pis­cent and sen­ti­men­tal dreams?

She stepped across the thresh­old, smiled, soft­ly said his name. Her white dress was short and the chest­nut hair still long, same as in his pre­cious fad­ed Polaroid.

“I won’t ask how you are,” she said in that voice that al­ways thrilled him. “I know how you are. I’m sorry.”

“But you mar­ried him. You had three chil­dren,” he stam­mered stupidly.

“Yes, that’s how it looked.”

“I don’t un­der­stand. It was years ago, decades.”

“Of course, you don’t un­der­stand.” She reached out and brushed the back of his hand where the spots were, and he felt the old electricity. 

“When was the last time you wrote some­thing re­al­ly good, some­thing as good as ‘Un­re­quit­ed’ or ‘Nos­tal­gia for November’?

He took a step back. “That’s a cru­el question.”

Her smile ex­pressed sym­pa­thy. She sighed. 

“Maybe I shouldn’t have come. But I felt I should fi­nal­ly say goodbye.” 


She looked at him like a stat­ue of a god­dess. “Po­ets and beloveds die; mus­es don’t. They just move on, tou­jours au courant.”

An ac­cess of grief un­stead­ied him. “I’m sor­ry,” he said. “Those old poems —”

She held up her hand. “Don’t say it. It’s no use. Just come here and give me a kiss.”

He did. The kiss was warm, fa­mil­iar, shock­ing. It flum­moxed him.

“Good,” she said, reach­ing be­hind her for the door­knob, know­ing ex­act­ly where it was. She smiled, ever young yet so much old­er than he was. 

“Now, go on up­stairs and take that nap.”

Filed under Fiction on June 25th, 2021

Care to Share?

Consider posting a note of comment on this item:


Previous Post


Next Post


Join our Irregular Mailing List

For very occasional ramblings, word about new print ephemera, and of course exciting investment opportunities.