Chapter 14 Excerpt, “Mental” by Marie K Johnston

 

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Chapter 14

Too many steps forward, waving her arms in the breeze she created, her tilted head looking behind her, looking at the sky.  Walking this way, Evelyn thought, should be helpful and would be meaningful if I didn’t feel as though I were walking on stilts.  This was the way she tried to ignore the familiarity of her surroundings, their womb-like qualities.  Soon she must break free from Austin, where she had become a woman and concentrated on collecting understanding from her memories to become a writer.  She must break free soon, cleanly and sharply, to consummate all past days and dreaming and striving–to drown the silent nagging fear of staying in this town with nothing to quell the boundless hoping but more familiarity and more memories. Evelyn was always somewhere, but she was never really present. Even in good moments. She was too busy trying hard to understand what was real by applying her knowledge of what was ideal. She had no idea that this was going to kick her in the chrissakes; our dreams and our nightmares can be almost too convincing at times, able to fool us temporarily by their richness and attention to detail. But today, she didn’t even know that the fact that she was asleep when she was awake was so much of the problem. In this moment, unfortunately, her ideals had won out and she was again transfixed. Balance would have to wait for another day. It was probably just that she was so self-absorbed; how else was she going to figure out what she wanted?

These summer days were passing smoothly, as a hiatus, as breathing space in her crowded mind.  These humid days, blended by the bonds of loving and being loved, blended by the soft peace of a connection to the spirits of others that enhanced her own spirit, presented themselves to Evelyn’s hunger like frothy waves.  The days whispered that she would be able to extract from her consciousness the sweet yearning of living and record it for others to understand.  The days whispered that it was natural and correct for her to succeed in extracting from all of her days the seeking spirit of humanity.  Sometime, sensing that she needed rest, the days would allow their fragrance—a scent of dew, ink and silence—to lull Evelyn into a pleasant slumber.  These days, filled as much with waiting as with living, she recognized as a time to prepare herself for new times. The pity of being creative, and young, can sometimes be the ability to believe yourself more than you can believe everything else. You can only see one way, your way, and not get enough outside of yourself to see how you are connected to everything else. Poor Evelyn, even though she felt happy at this moment. It was a shallow happiness, but it felt so deep. Confusing, huh?

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Her bare feet etched a cyclical expanse into the grass—a circle of the days she had lived and all of the days yet to be lived—but the meaning of the today in which her feet moved did not blend into the cycle of her life.  In this moment, conscious of witnessing the glassy sky and the slow deliberate motions of her body, Evelyn lingered in the acknowledgment of an ever-growing understanding.  Confident of her limbs and mind, her oneness, she glided against the tender boundaries of gravity. The extent to which she could go was recognized by some adults to be within the dangerous grasp of fanaticism, even if no one else could verbalize it to her in her language. When she wrote her first novella for a college class, all of the students and the professor had commented after reading the first section that, even though it was compelling, it wasn’t relatable because there had been no introduction of a conflict. Evelyn had actually argued with them, convinced that just because everyone else’s novel had always had a conflict didn’t mean hers needed to. What was the point of writing in a conflict, she had asked desperately?

“Because it’s true to life,” her professor had said. Even after Eve relented, she still spent the majority of that semester at a loss as to how to write in a conflict. What was conflict? How was one supposed to feel about it? Why did it exist at all? The one she did write in was to her at the time very small and discreet. Going back and reading it now in light of how ill she is, the worst part about the whole thing is that she had been writing about a conflict so big for her personally that she couldn’t even see it at all, and still can’t. She’s smart, though.

If my sister had just been able to learn how to get out of her own way before she got too caught up in her own cycles. If she could just learn that it is possible to coexist with everything. If she could just let go of a few of the wrong things to make room for a few of the right ones.

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“Eve…hey…” Lee’s voice echoed from somewhere against the solemn exalted ocean inside of her.  He bent to pick up her satchel and sandals from the grass, watching her laugh gently at herself.

“You caught me, I suppose…how did rehearsals go?” she asked.

“All right, for James not being there; he had a job interview—how have you been?”  he grinned back at her, thinking how lovely it was to see her body move because it was a visual expression of her mind. Or at least he thought so, the sweet innocent guy that he was. They were like little kittens, learning the difference between playing and fighting. But, like kittens, they could not speak to share this experience. They didn’t even know it was happening. They thought they knew what love was and that they were in it and that they were doing it right. They didn’t know any better.

“Sitting here, I just started thinking about the sum of all of my experiences—the sum is an understanding that will connect everything I’ve known to all that I will know,“ they began walking through the park now, she took her satchel from his arm and put it over her shoulder, he stroked her back lightly, “…and I am close enough to making sense of all of it to already ingest the serenity of it…That is why I was spinning, although I didn’t realize I had been.”  They looked at each other, smiling.  Meeting each other in the park, amidst the green life that flourished, was as natural as their similarities, they thought. Don’t blame them for being naïve, arrogant, and self-righteous. They were too young to understand why things like love, work, family and other relationships were so difficult to navigate through. They still thought they could do better than all the people that had ever come before them, right off the bat. It’s not their fault, but it was their mindset.  There were such exhilarating heights involved in these rudimentary philosophies, though, even though these heights were nothing like the ones that they’d reach later though conscious effort. Their relationship had begun by coincidence, for Evelyn often spent Saturday afternoons writing in the park and Lee walked home through it after practicing with his band.

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Chapter 13
This twirling girl-being’s sparkling skin,

clothed in flowing filmy white,

flings limbs and legs in pirouette spin;

her natural grace at full height.

 

Her vision sweeping a circle span

of all that the beach contains,

she remembers that other human

lives share with her the sand’s grains.

 

Outward from introspection she slides,

to study strangers faces;

filled with hope, to a stop she glides

to learn from others’ graces.

 

Into the waves’ froth run children’s feet;

upon the sand, lovers walk.

An artist muses upon a seat

of sun drenched rocks.

 

Beneath umbrellas, the elders sleep

in dreams that wake memory;

into the flesh of time slowly seeps

all bittersweet destiny.

 

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They pulled up in front of the antique store, and through the windows Chloe’s form stretched upon a ladder.  She placed a rose-colored vase next to a row of books, then (after nodding her head at the boss whom the girls could not see) replaced it next to a set of teacups on the shelf below.  Evelyn honked and Chloe glanced up, waving to them with a sideways smile.

“That means this has been going on for at least half an hour,” commented Catherine.

The navy air of night soaked in from the rolled down window and into Evelyn’s skin.  She rested her head against the seat, humming to the radio and smoking her cigarette with slow, deliberate puffs.  Catherine fumbled through her purse, looking for lipstick.  Soon the shop door opened, and Chloe’s face emerged.  Her boss stopped her, speaking words of no importance other than seeking to delay him from the drive back to his lonely apartment; Chloe waited patiently until he decided to lock the antique shop’s door and wave good-bye.  Then she smiled to the girls, jumped down from the curb and bounded into the back seat.

“Hi, guys!  I hope you haven’t been waiting long, my boss kept gibbering on again…” Chloe leaned against the window with her legs stretched out upon the long seat.  “When does Lee go on?”

“In about thirty minutes or so, we’ll get there in plenty of time,” answered Catherine.

 

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They passed through streets flooded with cars—others’ destinations and lives were mere seconds of contact through the Volkswagen’s windows.  Each barely seen face and all of its secrets were flashes of humanity to be taken in and discarded.  

They pulled into the muddy driveway, parking after Evelyn’s careful maneuvers through narrow spaces.  A street lamp illuminated the bus and their faces as they stepped from it: light flashed upon red metal poetry, Chloe’s blond ringlets, Catherine’s scarlet earrings and Evelyn’s brown head beneath blue velvet.  From where they stood they could hear Lee’s band warming up on the second floor.  The girls walked into the doorway and waved at Colin, who motioned for them to come over and talk to him.  He was an actor who spent his nights selling tickets to save for New York, and after Lee’s shows he usually went out with them.  He always let the girls in free. Catherine and Evelyn waved to them as they ascended the stairs.

The smoky air curled its way to the ceiling against dim lights and wooden beams.  The two girls found a table close to the stage, Evelyn sat down and Catherine went to the bar.

Lee’s body was sprawled upon a chair, cradling his guitar.  She watched his hands moving against its neck and heart and the soft light spilling down which gleamed in instant flashes upon his fingers, the silver strings and glossy wood.  A smile glowed serenely from beneath his bent face.  Evelyn smiled, acknowledging her love for this man who loved her life as she loved hers.  She so loved to watch him, hearing his raspy drawl and the intent rhythm of his hands; she loved the long precious moments that were her selfish enjoyment before he realized she was there, loved the beam of his face against his glossy disheveled hair when he realized she was there, and the change in his features for the rest of the show as he played for both his love and hers.  This is what she thought, and these thoughts made her happy. She was not interested in having these thoughts challenged, and would have probably been capable of stabbing the poor fool who brought to her attention the fact that thoughts are not as good as a real relationship. She sipped the beer that Catherine brought her, resting her face against her hand, humming to Lee’s voice.

Evelyn and Chloe had designed the band’s name upon an old sheet last fall for Chloe’s brother, Robert, who played drums.  They were spending the day at Robert’s apartment when he asked them to paint a backdrop for their shows.  The two girls had agreed, loving to paint; but Evelyn had never seen the band play together and wanted to watch them perform first.  She had been enthralled by Lee, his movements, his voice, his absorption in stretched seconds of sound.  That evening, during the gentle explosion of his own kind of sweet noise, he watched her and thought he sensed in her a recognition of the pain involved in pleasure and she watched his mouth and limbs and thought that he had found a way to realize his ideals.  That had been the connection, the instinctive draw that pulled them to each other—the thought of both that both had found expression of the other’s deepest struggles. The mural that Evelyn and Chloe created, filled with bursts of violet, red and blue, with sun and grass and stars, with the impression of a child flinging his limbs to the sky, she and Lee both thought of, in their own ways, as an explanation through paint and cotton of the natural state of humanity.

 

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Their ideas were just variations of the same theme, so similar and so very different. This dissonance could not stand forever. It’s no one’s fault. It is funny how we can’t really know anyone until we really know ourselves, and cannot love anyone until we really love ourselves first. Otherwise, they are too many assumptions and no communication between two people for them to realized that they are assumptions. There are just two people, sitting next to each other in the same car, who suddenly realize they both had a steering wheel once the car breaks in half. The sad part is that the love was real, however based it was on ideals that aren’t real. They were good people, but confused. They were too young to know that then.

 

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