Chapter Sixteen: The Low
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
Had a drawn-out, confusing, tormented dream that night. Old college chum Dean was in it and we were in the city. We had been brought to an abandoned home that we’d learned had a secret room accessible through a tight passageway. The square hole was small like an air duct and we took turns squirming through it. Somehow it involved a lesson for students and I was mindful of my responsibility not only for their safety but in giving them proper instruction on how to best navigate the passage’s confines. Not far into my trek I felt the beginnings of panic, of freaking out over the claustrophobia of it, of getting stuck and suffocating there. But I told myself to keep it together, I had to be a model of self-control, of mind over matter. I finally made it. The room was windowless but somehow well-lit, stifling, dusty, had old wallpaper yellowed and peeling. It was like a tomb. Clearly untouched for many decades, maybe half a century or more. It was a kid’s playroom. There was a tiny table with tiny chairs and a child’s tea set, all dusted with an age’s grime. And as we stood checking it out I got sad vibes of how it had been abandoned, forgotten, as if the room represented a child, and that person had grown and died and been forgotten just like that room, knowledge of which died with them.
I woke with a crying groan that bridged the dream and waking reality. Not sure how loud it was, I looked over to see if I had woken Rayne, but she slept deeply still, a faint expression on her face of expectation as if she were back in a similar dream waiting to see what would happen.
I could tell by the pallid light at the window that it was around six. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep anymore, but the heartbreak of the dream left me frozen there in bed. I thought of Rayne’s final words about the aftermath of the drug. The Low they call it. I looked at my room, its old wallpaper, its lack of updating, its crappy second or third hand furniture.
I had to do something to snap out of it. I got up and put on my bike pants and shirt. I wrote a note for Rayne that said I went for a ride and stuck it where she’d see it on the bathroom door. I went down in my bare feet and found the same socks I’d taken off last week. I put on my shoes, helmet and carried my bike out the front door.
It was warm early and there was a haze blurring Fowl’s Point Proper across the canal. I rode up the street, passed the Hairpin, wondered if Sari was awake yet or lost in whatever kinds of dreams Sari dreamed. Most of the streets were devoid of people or moving cars. When I reached the top of Chandler street I had no plan on which way I would turn at the main road. Something made me turn North and I went over the reeking bridge and through the main intersection with its usual bit of traffic, then over the creek and past the water towers. Finally I was leaving town and I geared up and left it behind like everything depended on it. I knew I wasn’t leaving the town or Rayne for good and that I’d circle back around after ten or twenty miles, but I had to leave and be alone to deal with the Low.
I had left people and the world behind, now flanked only by walls of green forest. Finally I faced what had happened on the drug, sought those places I thought I went and the transformation I had made. When there was nothing to be found, just a blank memory of places and faces, I felt myself getting choked up in self-disgust and the self-pity of disappointment. There was nothing, nothing but the crummy, humid, buggy reality around me. My body weakened, wanted to collapse and fall into the grass on the side of the road crying. I wanted to vomit. Instead I screamed, screamed so hard it hurt my throat and made me go light-headed. I gripped the handlebars and pumped my legs and screamed again at the road before me. This second outburst actually made my arms buckle and my vision fade, so I spit and caught my breath and reached for my water bottle only to find I had forgotten it.
Deep down I knew it from the moment I opened my eyes, still half in that dream and its stranglehold. I knew that it had all been a mirage, a hallucination caused by the drug, but I didn’t want to admit it. I had invested so much of myself in its illusions, felt I was on the path to a new life. Now it was Wednesday in mid-June, hot and humid, and I was the same Cliff as the last time I woke up in that bed in that room.
Next site on my ride was a town more Melvillean than Fowl’s Point. Mooresville. It was a seriously underdeveloped strip of tiny wooden homes and docks for fishing, maybe boating, maybe living. There couldn’t have been more than two dozen small homes all lined up on the only road with at least two trailer parks tucked behind them. It had undoubtedly thrived on whaling two centuries ago. I saw a few people but nobody seemed to notice or care about me and then I was on the road out of town.
I had to go across the intersection that stops the Route 1 expressway with a red light. I felt like a frail aluminum bug pedaling among the simmering semis and frustrated SUVs, but I got through it alive with a dose of carbon monoxide, then moved on past a strip mall and then to the next sleepy town which was far enough from the bay to lose its shore vibe. Now I could have been anywhere in Lower Slower Delaware. I stopped at a convenience store, leaned my bike against the propane tank exchange and went in for a drink. Walking in I saw myself on a conspicuous security camera monitor. In it I looked shorter, unshaven, hunched. More like the Dwarf than Zarathustra. I bought a Gatorade I knew would fit my bottle holder and gave all the coinage from my change to a tip cup so I wouldn’t have it jangling in my pocket as I rode.
I continued on to a small road I’d previously discovered which is so narrow most cars have to slow down when passing by another coming the opposite direction. But it was pretty much deserted which is why I take it and soon enough I came to Route 196 that leads back into Fowl’s Point. I went by the entrance to the cul-de-sac of the suicide whose house we surveilled, then came to the intersection where I confronted the hulking Slav.
Going downhill on those last streets before my house I had to mentally pull myself together, reassess my life, my situation with Rayne. Last week at this time I hadn’t even left for my shore trip, hadn’t found Rayne or Sari or this damned drug. I was looking forward to a relaxing summer with Moby Dick. How did this happen? I had to reset things, get back to that point, take Rayne as an added bonus, a movement in a more positive direction and develop our relationship in a healthy way. I couldn’t believe we had actually fought in the bookstore. Over what? I couldn’t even imagine.
When I came inside she was out of bed and sitting on the couch looking at her phone.
“Hey,” she said and stared at me to see if I was okay.
“Hey,” I replied cheerfully, “I’d kiss you but I’m sweaty and disgusting.”
“I don’t care. Come here.”
I sat on the edge of the couch and kissed her.
She was still searching my eyes, my demeanor, for signs of mental distress, “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine. How are you?”
“I’m great,” she said as if there was no doubt about her, only me. “I was worried about you after what we said at the bookstore.”
Her mentioning of that opened a cavity of despair in me, an embarrassment beyond humiliation, the kind that made Dostoevsky types pull their hair and self-abuse themselves. I tried to hide it but felt my face get hot. “Nah, I’m fine.”
“I think we should talk to Sari about it. I don’t want you to think that everything that happened to you on the drug is invalidated now that you’re off it. That can be a real bummer.”
“No, I’m cool. It was a crazy trip, but I’m fine. Let me go up and shower.”
I kissed her forehead and went upstairs peeling off my biking clothes and putting them in the washer. As I shaved and showered I thought about what she said about talking to Sari. It wasn’t a bad idea. Sari might have something worthwhile to say, might make me feel better about it. But after our fight and how I revealed my Zarathustra ideas to Rayne I was too embarrassed to admit to Rayne there could still be something to it worth pursuing. My urge was to downplay it and hope she forgot about it.
When I was dressed and came down for some breakfast Rayne’s mood had changed. She was still on the couch but leaning forward with her elbows on her knees looking intently at her phone. Her shoulders were tense and she shook her head like she did when mad or outraged. She whispered, “What the fuck?”
I started making coffee, “What’s wrong?”
She didn’t respond, kept thumbing her device.
I came behind her, looked over her shoulder. She was looking at Facebook. “What happened?”
“You know that college boyfriend I had, Josh? The one that hung out with his sister’s friend?”
“Yeah?” I remembered he was the one whose female ‘friend’ Rayne was suspicious of. How he refused to stop seeing her and that was what caused his and Rayne’s breakup.
“I just found him on Facebook and he fucking married that bitch. I was right. He was totally cheating on me the whole time. I knew it. Fucking asshole!” She started typing on her phone, glaring at it through tears of anger.
“What are you doing?”
“Telling him what an asshole he is.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t right now. You really don’t know what happened.”
She kept typing, mouthed the words she typed with erratic stabbing motions. “Fucking autocorrect!” Her typing became aimless stabs at her phone, then she raised it over her head and threw it across the room. It smacked into the wood-paneled wall, fell onto a small bookshelf, then onto the floor. Her face was already in her hands.
I couldn’t believe how upset she was. This was a boyfriend from a decade and a half ago. I went over to her phone and picked it up. I clicked the power on and the lock screen came up. It was miraculously okay.
She still sat covering her face. Was she hiding the fact that she was crying? I sat next to her, laid her phone on the coffee table and put my arm around her. She didn’t respond. I didn’t know how to act in these situations. Was I supposed to just leave her alone to deal with it or support her and make her feel better? Sari would know. We had to talk to Sari.
I rubbed her back, “Hey, are you okay?”
She didn’t move.
“Let me make us some coffee.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I went in the kitchen, took out my phone and texted Sari, “We need you here. Rayne is really upset about something.”
I sent the message and stared at it waiting for a response. Nothing. It might still be too early. I went about making the coffee.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. It was Sari’s response. “OK. On way.”
Rayne had fallen onto her side on the couch, her face hidden under her hair. She could have been asleep, but I knew she wasn’t. The storm door rattled and then Sari opened the door and came in with a flood of white daylight. Rayne didn’t move. Sari wore sunglasses, sweatpants and had her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She saw Rayne on the couch and went over to her, brushed the hair out of her face and spoke soft soothing words to her.
I went upstairs only too glad to not have to deal with it. Admittedly I was somewhat calloused about it because she was so upset about an old flame. That would be like me getting upset over an old girlfriend like LeAnne. I didn’t like this one bit and knew it was unlikely I would be able to feel compassionate or even especially mature toward Rayne about this.
Was it the Low? I actually hoped it was the Low, not residual feeling for a boyfriend from college. I had forgotten about my Low, distracted by Rayne’s Low. I actually wanted to just be alone, maybe read, but I’d left my Moby Dick down on the coffee table and didn’t want to disturb the casualty of betrayal down there.
I decided to get out of the house so I crept down the stairs and went out my back door which led to my so-called backyard: a herringbone strip of ragged bricks that served as an ankle-breaking obstacle course sidewalk and on either side of it two lengths of dead grass which, if it were alive, could be mowed with one pass up and then back. At the end of it a rickety white gate led to the trash truck back alley up which I walked. I had decided to go to Graham’s for sandwiches and coffee and texted that to Rayne so she knew where I went.
I was crossing the bridge when my phone buzzed.
It was a text from Sari. “Rayne is lying down. I gave her something. She’ll be okay. Did you need to talk to me too?”
I texted, “Yes.”
“I’m back at the Hairpin. Come up and see me. Room 3.”
I spun on my heel and walked in the opposite direction. I got to the Hairpin but the front door was locked. Around the side a door leading off the kitchen was open. There was a radio on inside and a black guy was prepping in the kitchen. He lugged a huge plastic container and swung it up onto a counter, looked at me. I started gesturing that I was going upstairs but he didn’t seem to care who came and went. I made a right away from the kitchen and found the staircase leading upstairs. The first room I came to was 1, then next was 3. I hesitated a second before knocking, then did so lightly. The door opened and Sari stood there smiling. She was wearing a robe and had her hair up in a towel.
“Hi Cliff, come on in.”
I stepped into the room which was relatively small and smelled of women's fragrances and shower steam. The single room had a bed and across from it a bureau with a flat-screen TV on top of it. To the side was an enclosed bathroom with its door shut. Next to that was a little alcove leading to a window before which sat a small writing desk and chair. Sari had her laptop there. Everything was clean and neat as if she had just arrived and didn’t unpack. In contrast Rayne had already made my bedroom a mess of clothes both unpacked and dirty.
We stood in the middle of the room. Sari looked up at me and I saw she had even put on some eye makeup.
She said, “So Rayne texted me a few hours ago that you guys had a little tiff.”
“Yes, during the….the Twilight Zone.”
“Rayne has told you our terminology.”
She smiled, “The Craving?”
Sari looked away and adjusted the collar on her kimono-like robe. “What particular notion got in that head of yours? You seemed transformed.” She looked back at me, smiled, “Certainly surpassed John Travolta out on the dance floor.”
“Remember you had asked me about Leuschner? I decided that he was Nietzsche’s model for Zarathustra. Then I started thinking about the Eternal Recurrence and thought I understood it and that I…”
“You became the Ubermensch.”
I just nodded.
“You saw beyond good and evil, beyond primate thinking. That we create all value every moment through the will to power, that when you’ve gone beyond the search for extrinsic meaning the moment is eternally free.”
“But now you can’t remember it and think it was all an illusion.”
“It wasn’t, Cliff. We can get that back. There are superior states the mix can give us access to.”
She stepped very close to me and looked up in my eyes. “We Ubermenschen are above conventional morality and can do what we want. Is that what you’ve learned? The world is yours? To take what you want?”
She had gotten very close, had her icy blue eyes boring up at me. She reached up and took the towel off her head, let it drop. Her blond hair fell out, her dizzying smell hit me: hot water, shampoo, perfume.
“You and I, Cliff, are quite alike.”
She walked to the door and clicked the deadbolt shut. Then she turned, let her robe fall off and stood there naked.
I looked at her and she looked at me. I couldn’t believe this was happening.
As an explanation she said, “Jerry’s wife is keeping him home all week. My Craving persists. I need you. I want you.”
I had nothing to say, but before I could try she came at me and was grasping me, pulling my head down, kissing me. I took her in my arms and she threw her tiny body up on me, wrapped her legs around me, tongued me, moaned from deep down. I teetered back and we fell into her bed. She yanked off my clothes, but stayed atop me, looking down imperiously, a curl of lust and determination in her lower lip.
And so with her on top, Rayne’s half-sister Sari screwed me wildly for as long as I could do it.
After it was over she lay looking at the ceiling and said with that soft hypnotic timbre, “You’ll go back to your girlfriend Rayne and forget this ever happened. She can never find out about this. She’s too fragile. You’ll tell her we met and talked down in the bar. Where were you going when I texted you?”
“To get bagels and coffee.”
“Good, go and get them.”
“I want to do it again.”
“Okay, so do I. But then you have to quickly shower and leave.”
I rolled over onto her, looked into her fierce blue eyes and thought: I’m in love with Sari.