With You and Places Without You
In this hemisphere the winter nights crowd the day and by mid-afternoon
the yellow haze of lamps lights the streets of Budapest. I cross
the square and the click, click, click of my heels echoes off the
towering stone soldiers on horseback. Communist cars sputter and
impatient busses squawk at me. My Walkman accompanies me on my journey,
as does Sade's song of love that won't leave, the song that conjures
my longing for you. In my haste I pass the caramelizing pastry from
Gerbaud, the bronzed gaze of Imre Nagy, and finally the imposing
spires of Parliament. So familiar are these sights that they no
longer engage my thought or wonder, but rather they mark my walk
home. What was once foreign is now home for me. After the slam of
the phone last night, I wonder if you are now foreign and no longer
home for me?
am to see my first real castle today. I crowd off the bus with a
dozen of youthful 20-year-olds and our anthropology teacher. My
extra ten years of what they jokingly call "wisdom" only
contrasts their eagerness against my melancholy. We trek up the
hill and they shout and laugh while I nurse my vodka hangover and
a tinge of shame over an elevator-to-bedroom incident with one of
my fellow students. I try to distract myself with romantic Hollywood
images of windswept hills, crumbling bastions and dark men. Rocks
grate under my feet and the afternoon sun clears my fog as we come
upon the assertive fortress -- the gaping arch of the entrance,
the worn reddish color of the bricks covered by the dusty damp smell
of old places. We enter into the compound and a stone path leads
me to the small chapel. Cracked panes of stained glass filter a
kaleidoscope of light onto Christ's body, protector of the altar.
Dusty particles dance in the air as I count the small wooden pews
and statues of saints that line the walls.
I spot her, instantly drawn to the strain on her face. Mary hides
in a room warmed by the waxy scent of candles, an evil serpent lodged
under her left foot. I turn to explain to you that this life-sized
plaster of Mary wears a red cape around her shoulders (not the usual
blue), which is a symbol of her sacrifice for Christ. My words fall
empty into the silence behind me, and I abruptly leave, the echo
of my steps left for the ears of saints.
we first arrived in Budapest for our academic year, one of the young
girls asked me if the man who wished me farewell at the San Francisco
airport was my husband. Surprised by her question, I retorted with
an abrupt no. Then with a light laugh I told her you were my ex-lover.
I could have told her you were the only man I ever loved so passionately,
but that you had wedged a stake of lies into our center. I wanted
to call you and ask you what you would have said, but I wasn't ready
to hear your answer.
make light steps down the worn stairs into a dusty room where a
large round wooden wheel rests against the back wall. I pause. Hairs
dance on the back of my neck and my stomach collapses. My breath
hides in my chest and then slowly escapes. Mounds of dirt and piles
of bricks are scattered around the room. The ceiling is low and
it smells of iron down here. Some of the other students begin to
tauntingly scream "torture chamber." Panic races up my
legs and into my eyes as I look for a way out, my sense of direction
distorted. My mouth turns to bitter dust and my wrists feel pinched
by metal. I can't place where I am. Madness reverberates off the
walls. I can see them now, dirty men and haggard women, slouched
in corners, scratching at the ground and hanging from the walls.
I push their cries of pain into the empty corner and turn to you
for reassurance. My parched mouth whispers, "did you feel that
too?" If you had been there you would have led me out of the
night you pretended I was just another friend calling to lament
about all the turkey I ate. But I am in Budapest and Thanksgiving
was celebrated with a weak plate of salty mashed potatoes and cheap
red wine. Do you remember that rainy Wednesday before Thanksgiving
when we hopped on your old Norton and buzzed up and down the hills
of San Francisco, stopping in at our favorite pubs? We drank sweet
dark beer, smoked European cigarettes and talked about cranberry
sauce, the beauty of our shiny city, and my plans to return to school.
As we stumbled toward the Lucky Thirteen pub, a black man stepped
into our path. Robed in torn red velvet and crowned with a Burger
King hat, he cleared his throat and then offered a sonnet for a
buck or a beer. I requested a sonnet of love. You gave him a five
and he began, his voice shrill with madness.
truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from
what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty
into his likeness: this was sometime a paradox, but now the time
gives it proof. I did love you once. You should not have believed
me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish
of it: I loved you not."
black king then swiftly removed his crown and in a smooth and feminine
voice murmured, "I was the more deceived."
that brief murmur of Ophelia's deceitful anguish I felt as if I
were standing stark naked in a fog-chilled forest. You reached for
my hand, but I pulled away and broke the silence with applause.
With a bow he wrapped the torn fabric around his body and pushed
his cart up Market Street. You apprehensively touched my cheek,
laughed nervously and put your arm around me as we continued on
to the Lucky Thirteen, joking about love and madness. We kissed
for hours in the corner of the bar and later fell into your bed
intoxicated with the nectar of hops and barley. You told me you
loved me that night.
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