Paint It Black was first called A Shrine for Unbelievers. Originally written from the points of view of all three major characters, Josie, Michael and Meredith, I later decided to tell it from the point of view of Josie Tyrell exclusively. For those who are curious about what the three-voiced novel might have looked like, here is the first Michael chapter. He was called ‘Mitch’ in this version, and his father is obviously a very different person than Cal turned out to be.
Mitch Faraday sat in the student infirmary next to Ulricke, the German night nurse, watching her knit. Exhaustion was what was written on his chart, exhaustion was what they always wrote at Hahvad, whether it was suicide, overdose, assault or theft or speaking in tongues. Exhaustion of life’s possibility before the age of consent. He hadn’t slept for a week this time. Sat up with Ulricke all night as she twisted yarn between her chubby fingers like Fate, twisting and impaling the slender strand, chaining soft grayness into a net to catch falling souls. Ricke, blessed among women. Rocking in your whitewashed chair to the rhythm of a heartbeat. Mitch wished he could crawl into her plump lap and let her rock him, maybe he could sleep then, and trust the darkness, but he kept seeing the peas in the dining hall that were too many different colors; he had been reading Nabokov, the story about the Siamese Twins, and the peas and the stench of cooking and a boy talking about a girl he’d slept with who had a third nipple, the boy’s yellow teeth, suddenly he couldn’t bear it anymore. Ricke was the only human being left.
Her son Max had been killed last year in a car accident. Sixteen-years-old, he had just started driving. Had been. It seemed impossible that such a thing could happen, the way a person could be here, have such wonderful ideas, that forward impulse called life, and then had been. Mitch had spent much of his career at Hahvad hiding in the infirmary, had gotten to know Max quite well. Exhaustion, read the notes to his professors, excusing the unfinished papers, the missed deadlines, the examinations unprepared. He’d liked Max, Max was funny, he could look at people and tell you what animal they were. For example, his mother was a hamster, and the girl in the purple room, the botched suicide, was a badger. Mitch’s History of Consciousness professor, C.H.R. Lewis, was a wildebeest.
“So what am I?” Mitch had asked.
‘‘No way,” Max said. “You’ll be pissed.”
“Promise,” Mitch said.
“Siamese cat,” Max said.
Mitch laughed, embarrassed, but instantly seeing himself in Max’s eyes. Siamese cat. Of course he was. Staring quizzically, slightly cross-eyed, from the white damask couch, wondering about life out the window.
Ricke rocked and knit, she’d been a child in Germany during the war, she remembered the bombs, and hiding in shelters, and eating bread baked with sawdust when the wheat ran out. Her parents were probably Nazis, but what right had he to question her, she was his only link, the only human being with an ounce of tenderness in this godforsaken place, this machine for grinding the mind into smaller and smaller chunks, until it passed through the sieve and emerged with a diploma. Sawdust. We are the hollow men, headpiece filled with straw. Dazzling the world with our vacancy.
He was cold. He was always cold in Cambridge. The snow fell down out the window, like a silence imposed; shh, it said, shhh and don’t tell. It was his third year at Hahvad, and he would never get used to the cold; it moved through your body as if skin had not yet been invented, it curled up in your bones and rattled them like an Arctic Milt Jackson playing the skeletal vibes. He could never get warm here. He dreamed of a California under skies of electric blue, fields of yellow mustard and circling hawks golden in the sun. He begged his mother, his father, each year to let him come home, go to UCLA, but the name Hahvad was sweeter than any son, Isaac sacrificed to Lord Crimson.
Ricke would never have sacrificed Max to the maw of Hahvad, thrown him to the Moloch of class narcissism. He sketched her, plump and blonde, with her rimless glasses, it was the only thing he could do with his hands now. If only the fates were so kind with their yarn, their needles clicking, if only they were so kind. He could weep every time she touched his hair, asked if there was anything she could do. He couldn’t go to class anymore, what did Derrida and Malraux have to do with anything, words, he had changed his major a third time and still, meaning faded like ink in sunlight, there was no substance anywhere, no beauty. The other students’ petty enthusiasms, their gross competitiveness, spotty faces and the skim of acid on top of the coffee, the colors of the peas, Nabokov and the twins—and why was it so cold? Though they’d been giving him Vitamin B shots, it didn’t do a damn bit of good. He shivered in the Hudson’s Bay blanket he wore wrapped around him like a Manhassett.
“College isn’t everything,” Ulricke said, knitting his fate. “You should take the year off. Go lie on a beach. Hitchhike through Europe. Life is short.”
“I can’t,” Mitch said. “My parents won’t let me.” Hahvad. He could never explain to his father about the peas, and how his roommate Thomas cut his fingernails onto the floor so he had to walk on the clippings, and how the sense bled out of his essays and they died as he wrote them, and about Valentina. Her fur hat tickling his cheek. He thought about all the others here at the infirmary. All the same, sons and daughters of privilege. Like so many priceless vases with hidden, intrinsic flaws, which gave way when you tried to fill them. The girls starving themselves to death, searching for perfection. Boys opening up their veins, looking for truth in the red red blood. He was just so cold. He had been saving the sleeping pills Ricke gave him, and took them all at once on a snowy March evening. He felt bad doing it, she had just lost Max last year, but she could knit herself another son. Thomas had come that morning to tell him Valentina was marrying the gnu from History of Consciousness. He had to stop the cold.
He spent the rest of the spring lying by the pool in a patch of sun at his mother’s house, wrapped in a blanket, listening to the distant drone of a gardener’s leaf blower and the voluble mockingbirds, the honey smell of the jasmine, studying the irregular geometries of blue between the branches of the old oak, like a puzzle he should know the answer to. It would be on the test.
Finally, his mother told him she couldn’t have it anymore, he would have to do something or go back to Westwood, where he had been placed as a teenager for your own good, to weed the director’s flowerbed, sit in group therapy, eat the mismatched peas. Be was raped in his bed by his coke addict roommate.
“You have to do something,” she said. “I don’t care what it is, just as long as you go.”
Faced with a return to Westwood, he roused himself. His mother had brochures, she had done her research. He leafed through the clippings she dumped in his lap, calendars, three fold mailers. Tree People, Friends of the River, the Sierra Club. String quartets brokered through the Chamber Music society. Writing classes at UCLA. New Hope Home for the Aged visitors program. Nurse’s helper at Children’s Hospital. He had to laugh. Exactly what a depressed person should do. Help others. Appreciate Nature. Delve into the Arts. He could tell she’d broken out her Parents of Troubled Children handbook. She was good at this. Taking care of her flawed child, turning his cracks to the wall. Just don’t turn around, no one will see.
So that afternoon, Meredith drove him down dilapidated Alvarado Blvd. to the formal modern colonnade of the art college there, and stood watching as he registered for life drawing, watercolor, and the Artist’s Book. Art therapy. He’d rolled down his window on the way home, and she’d rolled it back up again from the driver’s panel, shocked that he might allow some street person to reach in, to touch them.
The airy life drawing studio, third row, left-hand seat proved a surprising refuge, even if only a precarious one. He liked the way the light fell on the models when he sat on the left, it fell obliquely, slicing the form rather than sculpting it. He was in a cubistic mood, dislocated, he wanted to break things apart and put them together in absurd ways. Today there had been the young man, Fred, who owned a great deal of black body hair, his penis long and thick, framed in that mass of black curls like a slug in moss. His joints were pronounced and angular, as if every bone in his body had been broken and badly reset. It was this quality Mitch accented in his charcoal renderings, the aftermath of torture.
He sketched Margie, a fiery red-haired woman with a belly scored by stretch marks. He had never before seen a body which had given birth, not directly, not presented simply and as a matter of fact. His mother was never nude, always discreetly veiled in nightgowns which only revealed her outlines, embarrassingly rich when she leaned over to kiss him goodnight. The way she smelled and her breasts spilled out toward him, a deluge of flesh.
It was not Margie’s squarish breasts which interested him, her huge pale nipples, or her red pubic wisps. It was her belly that fascinated him, shriveled with stretch marks from pregnancies. He loved her easy way with it, easy and self-assured, as if the body was there for use, not for stylization. He liked her without knowing any more about her than her name, imagined the children who rode inside, how many might there have been. She had given life, right there, right there on the body was the proof. He wondered if Meredith had such scars from his birth. He shuddered to think of it, and yet, wished she had the courage of this woman, to show her belly, to say, in effect, yes, I am a woman who bore children, my useful body. I am not untouched by life, by time. Meredith never aged. When they traveled, she liked to pretend he was her lover and not her son, having coffee in a cafe in the late-morning sun, reading Le Figaro, plucking a feather from his hair.
The model’s children—there had to have been several—had stretched and luxuriated in the generosity of her belly, left their red welts, and she wore them without shame. How odd to carry life in your body like that. He would be afraid, he had to admit. Like an alien in one of those horrible movies, which grew inside the hapless crewmember until it broke out, all membranous and writhing, claws and teeth. Women were so brave—even Meredith, who had been knocked out the whole time.
The model moved to the next pose. The longer poses were hard on the older models, he could see how she put her hand to her back, arched to break the tension. He felt sorry for her that at her age, at least thirty, she was doing this for a living. He wished he could just give her some money, but he had learned early in life that no one appreciated being the object of a rich boy’s pity.
There were other models—a large black man, soft, smiling, dreadlocked. Mitch was fascinated by the softness of that male form. Herb. And the muscular woman with monumental feet, Debby. He loved those feet. He would have loved to sculpt them in marble, like a Juno in a ruined temple, nothing left but the feet. But today was a lucky day. His favorite model had arrived.
She stepped behind the screen to disrobe, then emerged in her skin. Small and slight, light as a daydream, a tremendous, thoughtless grace about her as she walked barefoot across the small posing stage and climbed onto the stool. He had never seen such a beautiful girl—certainly not at Hahvad. Her hair was bleached platinum blonde, it looked like she cut it herself, the roots and pubic hair by contrast were dark, the large eyes glossy dark. At first, the hair put him off, the blatant falsity of it, but now he was used to it, he decided he liked it very much, it seemed carefree and humorous rather than grotesque, and enhanced the dark eyes. He sketched her fine collarbones, the delicate architecture of her ribs, her legs, so tenderly.
Sometimes she watched the artists, sometimes closed her eyes. She seemed to be humming. He wondered what she was thinking, sitting up there nude in a room of fifteen clothed people. He wondered if she was cold. He wondered if she was hungry. She looked so young, farouche, dikii in the Russian. She didn’t seem like a student, there was no curiosity in her eyes, only a simple expectancy. He imagined that for once, here was a girl who was what she appeared to be, nothing behind the mask, there was no mask.
After class he hesitated. He wished he could meet her, talk to her, but he wasn’t the kind of boy who went up to girls and introduced himself. It seemed pushy, like of course you want to know me. He didn’t believe in that. He thought that if people were meant to meet, they would. He believed in a hidden current generating reality, and if it carried you to another person, then it was supposed to happen. If not, there was no sense in trying.
When she came back out from behind the screen where she dressed, her outfit made him smile, a thrift store dress and red cowboy boots. He wanted to tell her how she made him feel, her spine like a string of matched pearls, her unselfconsciousness, but then she was leaving with her purse over her shoulder, and he knew he would not follow her out; failure of will in a character, he knew from some long ago writing class, was a serious fault. If he was a character, he would never be a protagonist, only a minor character, the neighbor, a passerby, someone seen on the street. An attendant lord, one that will do, to swell a progress, start a scene or two.
He took his sketchbook and walked out past a cluster of other students. Some of them even said goodbye to him, but they lived in some other world, where things happened, where people had lives. Sometimes he tried to talk to them, but it never got beyond a single exchange, a ritual, he was no good at small talk. Hi, how ya doing? He never knew what to say. Fine, you were supposed to say. But he rebelled at fine. He rebelled at rituals. He wanted to know people, down to the very bottom of their souls.
Once, the girl with the diamond-shaped eyeglasses had asked him to come with them, they were all going out for coffee. He wanted to, but then he imagined what it would be like, sitting around with these people, listening to them spout off their ill-considered ideas but unable to correct them, or if he did, that silence falling over the conversation as it did in his seminars at Hahvad. His timing was off in human relations, he never was able to fall into that easy give and take. He made people uneasy. They tried, they smiled, they asked him about himself, but he always said too much or not enough and definitely the wrong thing. He shook his head and said no.
He walked home all the way up from MacArthur Park, taking the hilly residential streets, passing people working on their cars or practicing drums in their open garages, children riding tricycles on narrow driveways, garage doors open to tightly packed storage, the houses rising up steeply above or dropping down sharply below garage level. It was July, the hot sun coming down, but still cold in the shade. He wore a tweed jacket brown and green, he was still cold, he had never really gotten warm.
He wasn’t athletic, but he loved to walk. He could walk ten, twenty miles at a stretch. He did not drive. It was one of his touchstones. Unlike every other redblooded Southern Californian teen, he did not wait breathlessly until he was fifteen[JF1] and a half and could get his driver’s permit. He did not sign up for driver’s training in high school. His father offered him lessons from a former racecar driver. Though he would have liked to meet a former racecar driver, he didn’t want to learn to drive. He liked taking the bus. He liked to see the people, their faces, hear their conversations. His father bought him a BMW sports car. That was his father’s idea of young manhood’s fondest desire. A hot sports car to get all the babes.
There was a cooling breeze, stroking the fronds of the palm trees overhead like a comb though a girl’s long hair. He picked a tiny lantana blossom, twenty tiny red and orange fourpetaled flowers bundled into a single bloom like a Victorian nosegay. It smelled of dust and old shoes, but it was pretty. He stuck it in his buttonhole and smiled at himself, imagining the son his father would have liked to have had, who drove a Beemer and got all the babes. That son played tennis, had a gang of friends who drank orange juice spiked with vodka and carried Trojans in their wallets, laughed at girls they slept with, called them sluts and hogs behind their backs. He knew which sons his father wanted.
His father never got over him hating the car. It wasn’t even just the car, it was the whole driving experience, the way you had to pay attention, look through the frame of the windscreen, the radio blathering on, all the people cut off from all the other people in their little boxes. The car wasn’t an extension of the person, the person became part of the machine, and he didn’t want to be that. He was on strike. He protested. He gave Bartleby’s refusal, but of course, his father had never read Bartleby. He couldn’t understand Mitch’s protest of the television/microwave/two Mercedes life. His father owned a fiber optics company, he had about as much self-awareness as the number four greyhound at a dog race.
Mitch tried to explain it to his father once, in a good moment, during his second scotch. You had a window with Richard Faraday,[JF2] the Second Scotch Window. The first wasn’t enough, and the third was too much. Mitch explained to his bronzed, tucked and toned silver-haired father, “It’s the fixity of the car, don’t you see? The politics of transportation.”
“All transportation has politics,” his father said, gazing out the plate windows of his Newport Beach house, his eyes following the dance of the sailboats as they left the marina, white sails slicing the blue. “You try negotiating with teamsters sometime.”
“No, not labor politics,” Mitch said. You idiot, he thought. “No, politics like physically implied in the structure of the car. You’re driving, or you’re the passenger, or you’re in the back seat, see? The driver’s the dictator, the great fascist God—”
“This is an Oedipal thing again?” Richard said.
“It’s just a metaphor,” Mitch said. He wasn’t about to discuss old Siggy F. with Richard Faraday, god forbid.
Chrissie clicked into the room on high-heeled sandals. “Is this like a father-son thing?” She sat down next to his father, one leg tucked under her, ruffled his father’s cropped silver hair. She was about 25[JF3] [JF4] , small and tan in a white t-shirt and jeans, her blonde hair long and streaked, giving her a palomino effect. She was well-meaning but she loved his father, therefore she was useless as an independent entity.
“Don’t talk down to me, matey,” Richard said, brushing her off unconsciously without even tossing her a glance. “I know what a fucking metaphor is.”
Of course, it wasn’t a metaphor but the thing itself. Mitch tried to lower his voice—his father was exceptionally cruel when his voice rose into pre-pubescent registers. “So you’re either the Almighty Driver, or else you’re the passenger, the Mute Witness. Like, ‘shut up, who’s driving here?’” It was what his father always said to Chrissie, whenever they went anywhere.
Chrissie concealed a smile, straightening a stack of big books on the coffee table Mitch was sure neither of them had ever opened. Leonardo. Treasures of the Prado. The Pre-Columbians.
The ice chimed in his father’s glass like music. “Well, that is the truth. Only one person can drive the vehicle at a time, and that’s the person wears the pants, either metaphorically or in fact.”
It was hopeless, and yet, Mitch wanted him to understand why. What was so distasteful about the red Beemer.
“Oh for Pete’s sake,” Chrissie said. “Mitch, give it up. He’ll never get it.”
“What don’t I get?” his father snapped at her, and held out his glass. Chrissie got up and took it to the bar, added new ice, splashed on another two fingers of scotch. His father watched to be sure the ritual was performed correctly, then turned back to Mitch. “I’m going to say it plain and simple, Mitchy, my boy. In this life, the man drives. That’s the bottom line. The man drives. You want to be a man, drive the car.”
“But I don’t. That’s what I’m trying to say,” Mitch said. “The politics are blatant. Chrissie’s just as good a driver as you—”
“Crap,” his father said.
“Oh, honestly.” Chrissie gave his father the scotch, and instead of sitting back down next to him on the white leather Italian couch, she plopped discouragedly into a plump armchair.
Mitch knew he would be beaten but he needed to go on. He needed his father to understand this if he never understood anything else. “She drives beautifully. But if the Man is around, then she’s demoted to Mute Witness.” He could feel the tears forming, squeezing his neck. It was the story of their lives. God, the Mute Witness and the Hostage. “And the child sits in back. Children and old people, who don’t even get to witness. Who don’t even know where they’re being taken.”
His father had started his third scotch, and his color was up. “So what’s the point here? You’re giving me a headache.”
Now Mitch didn’t even know anymore what he was trying to say, he had forgotten, he just knew that his father was losing interest and his red face infuriated him, his Waterford tumbler and his air of unquestioning domination. He had to make his point, if only he could remember... “I’d rather take the bus than inhabit any of those roles, don’t you see? On the bus there are sights, real people. People who can’t avoid life. Not like us in our Mercedes with the air conditioner going—”
“Each and every one of them would sell his own mother for a Mercedes,” his father said. “Who are you kidding.”
Just then, the maid came in with a tray of hot hors d’oeuvres, a new maid, he wondered what happened to Evangelina. The woman’s eyes flickered, trying not to hear what they were fighting about. Mitch was embarrassed, but his father, who was getting crocked, turned to address her. “He wants to let life touch him. Most of us work our asses off so life will touch us a little less, but my son, the genius, wants to let life punch him in the mouth. Can you believe this?” The woman looked frightened, offering them all some of the cheese puffs she’d made, his father’s favorite. “You want to let life touch you?” Richard said, putting a cheese puff in his mouth. “I’ll let life touch you. I’ll boot you out onto the freeway some sunny Sunday, and you can see what it feels like to have life run over you like a sixteen-wheeler. You won’t last an hour out there, pretty boy. So no more of this crap. You’re going to learn to drive that car and that’s that. You’re a man, and that’s what the man does. He drives.”
Mitch opened his mouth to say more, but the tears came out, he knew his voice had climbed to the danger level—how could he tell his father he didn’t want to be a man, not in the way his father meant, he wanted to be a person, he wanted his father to love him, to understand how he was dying, suffocating.
“Think about girls,” his father continued, not one to back off once he had the advantage. “What girl worth a crap would be willing to take the bus on a date, tell me that buddy. Would you, Chrissie? Even if you had the squirmies for old Mitch here, would you go out with him if you had to take the bus? Sit at some filthy bus stop with some homeless guy drooling on you to go out for a hot night on the town?”
Chrissie smiled and shrugged her shoulders apologetically.
“Whaddya say to that, pretty boy Floyd. The market has spoken.”
Mitch sat with his head in his hands. Somewhere, there was a girl who wouldn’t care. He had to believe that. If he didn’t believe that, all was lost.
“You’re going to drive that thing, and that’s that,” his father told him, and planted the keys on the glass tabletop with a drunken whack.
The next day Mitch took the Beemer out and drove it into a parked Lexus two doors down, left it there with the keys in the ignition and his father’s information on the Lexus’s windshield.
Now, walking home, he crossed Sunset and climbed up into the neighborhood with a view of the reservoir, the great pines rustling overhead, past vacant lots filled with fennel and lupine and walking cliff asters. The little starry flowers on the gangly stems. He stopped to touch one of the innocent blooms. This is reality, he said to himself. This starry flower in his hand. The world behind the world, a tiny rent in the illusion. Somehow it reminded him of the model with the big eyes and the bleached hair. Wildflower.
In front of another house grew donkey tails and fuchsias with their ruffled skirts, like girls in party dresses, organdy and lace. Crossing a polished floor. Cotillion. He was taken there at his mother’s bizarre insistence, to try to remedy what she saw as his painful shyness, when it was something else entirely. Twelve-year-old girls in organdy and lace, their hair fiercely gleaming, the pinkness of their scalps, the little gloved hands in his. The way they stepped without grace or rhythm across the dance floor at the Wilshire Ebell. Pamela Bausch, her white neck, little pearls nestled in the hollow of her throat. He could still see that hollow, the string of pearls looping inside the delicate indentation. He wanted to slide his tongue along the pearls, along the bones and into the secret dip. If only she could have known his passion for her, it would have burnt her to cinders. But all she saw, of course, could have seen, was the gawky twelve-year-old bookish boy so odd he didn’t even attend school. He was opaque, a shard from an ancient civilization turned up in a field under the plow, she didn’t know the first thing about him and he couldn’t begin to explain.
“Faggot,” she whispered as she changed partners.
He walked along Coronado Street, densely foliaged, sun-warmed summer jasmine hanging over fences, exuding clouds of impossible sweetness into the air, roseformed succulents clustering along driveways, boys shooting baskets in a driveway with a concentration and intensity as if the losing players would be sacrificed as they had been on the ball courts of Chichen Itza. If only they were. Ka-thunk, ka-thunk.
If only he had been born into a truer place and time. He might have been a Phoenician oarsman, bringing the precious purple dye across the sea to trade in Thebes, the wind in his face. Or a scribe in Alexandria, in the shadow of the great Library, pressing stylus into wax. He could have been an archer in the Queen’s army in Palmyra, living in barracks with his comrades, or a craftsman of some kind, a tanner in fifteenth century Firenze or a goldsmith in Spain under the Moors. He might have kept an inn in Elizabethan England, where the bawdy life overcame even death, tempered by poetry and sweet William of Avon. Europe in the Enlightenment, even the early days of the twentieth century. Anywhere but at the butt end of the battered twentieth century in the banality of ersatz America.
The climb to his mother’s house up the winding streets of Los Feliz finally warmed him, but once he passed through the gates, the yard was surrounded with old trees and again it was cold. He climbed to his room and lay down under the covers of his narrow bed, thinking again of the model with her deerlike dark eyes, her fine bones. The beauty mark on her pubis. He thought about that mark, the neat triangle of her dark pubic hair, a fairy girl but also flesh, how light she would feel in his arms.
Distant traffic and the breeze in the pittosporums wound its way into his fantasy of her. He knew she was different, a girl he could love, not just from afar, but absolutely. He could be a man with her, he could mean something. He had never found a girl at Hahvad he felt anything like this for, they were all so terrifyingly opinionated and brilliant, sure of themselves, or else shy and analytical. He had come close a couple of times, in this or that dorm room, the sitting next to, the embarrassed looks, hands rubbing up and down his skin, kneading his thighs, the pleading note in the voice. All that wanting. It revolted him, frightened him. He had wanted them so much at a distance, but when they were right there, kissing him, he could not remember what made him desire them. He was nineteen and a virgin. He had wondered if he was queer. He forced himself to look at other boys in his house in the shower room, in case he had missed some sign of desire, but he found the thought of kissing Don Bell or Raymond Swadler, good-looking boys, still left him cold, their spotty asses and crude jokes.
He shuddered to remember the way he brushed off the girls, Naomi Sperling, Heather Vail. He blanched at his own cowardice. He was attracted to their intellect, their wit, their directness, they became friends easily. Naomi wrote to him in Greek. Silvia Cardenas had already finished her first novel, boys were falling all over themselves to walk her from class to class, hear her talk about Neruda and Lorca and Borges.
But he failed when they came too close. It was as if he was a creature who dwelled underground, and they cast too much light. He needed a flickering girl, a shy, fairy girl, who was not her ideas but the thing itself, something of beauty, someone with whom he might pass through the veil of illusion to the true world, not someone with a mind like a scalpel, which she used like an eighteenth century anatomist, dissecting the dead body, trying to find the soul.
True, he missed Naomi’s brilliance, Heather’s cynical wit. When he called Silvia, she hung up. He called a few more times, but could never keep her on the line long enough to apologize. He went to see her at the house she was sharing off Brattle Street. She came to the door, wearing a dirty sweater, her hair all lank and stringy. It was snowing, he remembered. It was always snowing. And she said, “Do I know you?”
“Are you joking?” Mitch said. “It’s me, Mitch.”
“You’re a dead man. I see you in the halls, I see a dead man, walking around. You’re dead, Mitch. Go somewhere and lie down, won’t you?”
In a strange way, he was dead. Girls picked him out from the other boys, drawn to his eyes like Irish fog or his helplessness, his hands, they took him home, made him herb tea or rubbed his back, they chanted love but he was a ghost, not a man at all, just as his father always said.
He sighed, turned on his back. But with the little model he could be a man, he knew it. Now there was sun, and the girl with her shy charm, the naked delicacy of her bones, did she ever eat? Well he would feed her, he should have thought of that, stop on the way to class, pick up something rare and yet substantial, tantalizing but simple. And books, he could give her Blake, or Malory, he could find a copy of Walter Scott, Lady of the Lake. He would make offerings, light candles, perform prostrations, he would prove himself worthy of notice. All in green went my love riding.
All in green, the mayfly’s transparent wings in his brief summer dance, he could not help but touch himself; seeing her on a rock like the White Rock girl in a picture he found in a magazine and tacked on his wall, gazing into a stream. And he in green with pointed ears, a rustic pipe from which he made exquisite melodies. And she followed him into the forest green, deeper and deeper, until she reached his mossy bower.