AFTER THE LITTLE WHITE OWL ceremony there was a euphoric calm for a day or two and I felt the energy of her subside. I took long walks into the forests, photographed dreamy sunsets, concerned myself only with beautiful things while lounging on my secret kai or dock on the lake. Then the radio signals started up again, furious in their intensity. Half the day she prickled all over me like electricity, and then at night the signals only grew stronger. It was like a pounding psychic headache. She, or it, was not happy. She, or it, was displeased. She did not want to be released. She wanted to stay. At night, I crawled into my bed beneath a plump, luxurious feather blanket and she somehow became three-dimensional, even real. She was sitting there at the Sundhöllin public baths in Reykjavik. She was seated at a table near the entrance and she was waiting for someone as she sat. My body came alive (I had never been so aroused), my lips and ears were red and hot with blood. I could feel her energy all over me again, just as it had been the first night we were together, that thick, deep-cut passion. “Tell me,” she whispered to me with those lips of hers. “Tell me now that you are devoted to me.” “No,” I said. “I won’t.” She was more persuasive then and I gave in to the tide of it. “Tell me,” she said. “Tell me. Tell me.” “ALL RIGHT!” I cried. “Yes, yes, yes. I’m yours! Take me.” Like that, her energy flooded into me and found its home within me again. There was no shaking her then, and this is how it would have to be. Devoted to her forever. Pühendunud. You know, I was kind of sad about it, to tell you the truth. I didn’t want to feel her love. But I did. I just did. At night, to take my mind off things, I watched 8 1/2 again. I watched the boys run off to the beach in their capes and beckon Saraghina. “Saraghina — La Rumba!” The dark-haired woman emerges and begins to dance. The boys watch, thunderstruck. Then the monks discover the youths, chase them down, and drag the boy Guido before his mother and before god. How shameful! Utterly shameful! His mother wipes at her eyes. He must seek repentance! Kiss the feet of the Virgin Mary! “Don’t you understand,” the priest tells the boy in confession. “Saraghina is the devil.” “Catholic conscience,” says the director’s confidant in the next scene. Coscienza cattolico. I decided to make peace with her spirit. Her love. Let it be.
‘WHERE IS HE? WHERE DID HE GO?’ At about 10 am this morning, my friend’s girlfriend, as I suppose you could call her, strode into my living room with only the faintest attempt at politeness or civility. I was sitting calmly at my typewriter, a fresh coffee beside me, and only then turned my head to see the distressed middle-aged woman walking my way. She had knocked, I guess, but that was merely to announce her arrival. I had not let her in but the door was open. Perhaps she thought that because the door was open, she could let herself in? “He’s not in here,” I told her. “Well, his car is here,” she harrumphed. “So then where could he be? Tell me where he is!” “He’s in the apartment across the hall. The neighbor let him sleep on her couch.” I dared not venture out of my own place until I heard the door slam later. Then I went in. He was rubbing his face and there was a half empty bottle of bourbon on the table beside his makeshift bed. “Is it safe to come in?” I asked. “Yeah, she’s gone,” he said and sighed. If this was the first time I had this experience I might have had more empathy. But this was the third time. The third time an angry woman has chased him into the far corners of my abode. “You two need to decide whether you will make up or end it,” I told my friend. “My patience is wearing thin with the two of you. I won’t tell you what to do with your relationship, but this is getting old.” “I know,” is all he could tell me. “I know, I know. Women, you know,” he said. “Women, women. All they want is this constant outpouring of love and emotion from you. But I’m tired! I work and I am so damn tired. I can’t just give her it all the time. Do you know why she was mad? Do you? Because I didn’t hear something she was saying in the car about her dentist appointment. Then she lost it. ‘You don’t love me.’ It’s probably true. I just don’t know if I love her anymore like that.”
Yesterday he was in no mood but I was pungent with springtime joy and fervor. Two sloppy fresh coffees from the local roaster (who has a sort of on-the-down-low coffeehouse speakeasy thing going on the side) then to the psychologist who guided me through a release ceremony for this girl who has been in my heart since forever. All we had was some cathartic, geothermal one night stand ages ago and yet she haunts me because it’s the last true intimacy I experienced. The girl is a traveler, you see. She cannot sit still. In the past two months, she’s been in three countries. God knows how many other men she’s had in addition to me. I am just a sordid knot in her pretty belt. Sometimes though when it’s late at night, I just want to crawl up back inside her embrace. I can feel it on me in the mornings still, a kind of primal, sexy heat, like the hot blood and steam a dead seal gives off when the Inuit cut it open. “This young lady is a Gemini,” said the psychologist, who also dabbles in astrology. Her office is on a balcony overlooking the town. You look out and see blooming trees, laundry lines. She is an older woman, a grandmother, and her walls are covered with her grandchildren’s art. There is a mug of hot tea on the table steaming. “Do you know long ago, when the Mongol nomads roamed the steppes, riding over the wild expanses, stopping in different villages, how the women would line up when they arrived on their horses? There. That is your wild Gemini energy right there. This woman is a traveler, a nomad. You cannot keep her. Your subconscious wants to feast on her, but she cannot be kept or tamed. But you must be sure,” she said, “you must be unequivocally sure you want to let her go.” I nodded. It was time. I had to pick from a box of figurines for a vessel or representative. For the traveler, I chose a little white owl.
We placed it in the chair opposite me and began the ceremony. “What is it you wanted from her?” she asked. “Intimacy,” I said. “And what do you want from her now?” “I want her to be free of me. I want her to have a man who loves her, for her to have children. I want her to have a happy life. I want her to be happy. I cannot give her these things as I am.” “But these are nice things to wish for someone,” said the psychologist. “These are actually loving things. I hope you understand that everything that happened between you two was actually a loving experience. It was all very normal. And I want you to tell anyone who ever questions it this, that it was all normal. You are a man, she is a woman, and your energies combined. Now, stand opposite me.” She held out her palms facing up, and I held mine over hers. “Repeat after me. Say her name.” I said her name. “Look at me as if I was her.” I looked. “Tell her that you are taking back any hurt or distress you have caused her. Tell her that you are leaving with her only the love you gave. Leave the love with her. Take back the hurt.” I did as I was instructed and I found myself nearly unable to look in her eyes. Instead I glanced at the little white owl, its tiny blue dots of eyes. When it was over, I fell down onto the soft couch. I was quiet for some time and looked at the small owl, but it felt lifeless, remote, distant, just some play thing. “The story between you and her is now over,” said the psychologist. “That does not mean that this nomad might not return to your village in 10 years’ time. But for now, it’s done.” She instead suggested I focus my energy somewhere else, on a new focal point with the depth of the blue ocean. “You must be able to free yourself from these old ties, so that you can give your love to someone new. Only then can you be pühendunud. Devoted.”
In the evening, my friend returned bearing a gift, a sort of conciliatory move for disturbing the peace with his relationship drama. This time his significant other waited outside and I could see her standing there alone, head facing down, broken and sad. They were together again, but who knew how long it would last. His voice cracked a bit when he handed me the gift, as if his sorrow was sincere, genuine, and deeply felt. But he didn’t really owe me anything. All I gave him was a couch to sleep on, some support. One way or another all of these things end, whether it’s a long, drawn-out death, or on a town balcony focusing on a little white owl. You hold your palms out, leave the love, take the pain. Then the story is over. That does not mean it won’t resume again in 10 years. But for now, it’s done.
LAST NIGHT I DREAMED of a golden cobra, this after a long arduous journey to get back home after a scientific conference in Berlin. The rest of my colleagues had to board some roundabout flight to New York via Cincinnati, and I was left at the docks with my suitcase trying to see if there was any kajut or cabin available on the next ship to Riga. There was, but there was a long line in the sweltering heat, with an end-of-times, overcast humidity over the whole scene, as if we were waiting to board the Lusitania or Titanic. When I did arrive home, the small golden serpent was in the fireplace, like a kind of mechanical trinket or new toy. It began to hiss at me, and I somehow heard a rattle, though cobras do not rattle, or maybe that was the slink of its golden scales? Too often in times of peril I dream of serpents. But what to do about the cobra? I asked all my friends, and they told me to let it free in a marsh somewhere. I had no idea about the impact on wildlife, or if golden cobras could self-reproduce? Hissing, hissing. I mulled it over. What to do about the little snake? Then at the window, another story played out involving a man who fell in love and turned into a little bird. But the heat of the love was so strong it burned him from the inside out until his wings were charcoal and his eyes burned like embers. Burned from the inside out by love. And still the golden cobra in the fireplace, slithering in circles and rings. I had grown attached somehow to the treasure of a thing, there was a fondness, but I had to let it go. There was just no other remedy.
YESTERDAY THE POLICE searched the house across the street. I saw them pull up in their tidy neat blue-and-white cruiser and get out in their neon yellow vests. They looked so perfect and symmetrical, so out of place in this rougher-edged part of the town, where the houses are half-derelict, crooked, and leaning, the facades muddied with dirt and smog. An old man in a black coat with a cane pointed out the house to them, looking like a character from a Paul Revere engraving. Inside, they were looking for something, searching, searching. I could see the flashlights in the lower-floor windows, behind the curtains, poking and probing around. They left with no arrest as far as I could see. Yet later that night, a dreamy snow storm blew in, and the two criminals returned in the shadows. One of them, an older sort, walked me down the street and kept chatting with me and asking me what I had seen of the police. To excuse myself, I went into a friend’s house nearby. You went down a staircase, then through an underground corridor, and came up into the kitchen. There was a party in there, Vesta was with her boyfriend, and I said I had come to collect a few things. “Sure, sure!” she said. “Take your time! But remember to close the door. Don’t let in the cold!” I collected the few things I had left behind, but when I went to leave, I couldn’t find my shoe. There were piles of shoes everywhere but none of them fit me. Vesta came down a few times to help me look, but to no avail. We went back into the kitchen, but it was now full of snow, and looking out the window, I saw a nude woman dive into a hot tub, with steam rising. There was an outdoor party, and an indoor one too, as all the floor was covered with wet snow, and there was a hot tub in the corner of the kitchen now too, a great wooden tunnivann, or barrel tub, which are popular here. I still couldn’t find my shoe and decided I could make it home in my socks. Vesta walked me to the door but before I left, she took me by the hand and whispered, “Come back later and I’ll help you find your shoe.” It was such a warm feeling, delivered with warm hand pressed into warm hand, and my soul was soothed warm with the understanding of such a sugarplum promise.