Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Here's a story published in the print mag Knock, actually nominated for a Pulltrolley Prize, but I rarely mention those nominations, as most writers get them and I don't care for the anthology anyway. But hey, here's my story. Romantic and wistful. Feel free to de-nominate it.


(Ancient) Murrelet and Peregrine (Falcon) met at an ornithological discussion website. At once, their mutual fascination with the exotic Purplex seized them. Simply at first.

According to The Journal of International Psycho-Ornithology, three members of a naturalists' organization, The Oz Polar Bear Club Southern Tasmanian Chapter, discovered the Orno Purplex genus Coconutz in 1967 during the heydays of the Vietnam War, when phalanxes of birds retreated from far from the fray to frolic Down Under.

The history of the tragic bird stampedes in the skies over Southeast Asia in the mid 60's has been the subject of many treatises in the above journal and others.

In any event, The Melbourne Age reported that the Polar Bears had observed an unknown bird --subsequently granted the appellation "Purplex Simplex"-- floating belly up atop the Tasmanian Sea, singing a song in F minor. The bird's song sounded vaguely like the Star Spangled Banner, but the Aussies didn’t recognize either the tune or the gaily-singing bird with violet, crimson, and golden plumage.

The Bears did nothing but chortle and point. “Perhaps it’s some kind of casualty, a bit freaky,” Winnie said to William and William said to Fred, “You reckon?” They were extremely frigid purple and swam with alacrity to shore and lager without even attempting to trap the bird. Out of the question. The members mortally feared that their favorite extremities would freeze and detach themselves from their corporeal habitats like icicles gasping for breath on a fir tree. Courage be damned. (This, along with various and sundry genocides in Africa, was [of course] not reported by the media.). But the narrator digresses.

Eventually, a duet of traveling scientists from upper Scotland snared a Purplex in Palestine and called it Simplex because it could sing only one song. (Little did they imagine that the true Simplex has no need to sing songs; it IS the Song, so goes the Tibetan myth.) Other Purplexes were discovered in various bodies of water, singing as though they were bathing in their own private bathtubs. They were always alone, floating belly up, seemingly either dead or sacrificial to the elements; and they were always classified. There are said to be 12 varieties, the number of notes in a chromatic scale.

Not long ago, Glenda Bernstein, a social worker in New York City, discovered a Purplex singing a Wagnerian overture on a Hudson pier in winter. Glenda managed to entice the creature (“rescue” it, as she rationalized) by singing back to it with her perfect pitch; and it came to pass that a gaggle of scientists decided to classify the Bernstein bird a “Purplex Complex,” as it could sing more than one tune., in perfect pitch. But not only: it could sing more than one tune at a time, generally at least three tunes, which made neighboring birds lustful, envious, and potentially dangerous, according to some people who like dogs. So the authorities felt compelled to contain the maligned bird, much to its chagrin and Glenda’s. A caged Purplex Complex does NOT sing.

But what of the man and woman? Enough about the bird!

So when the man and woman, user names Peregrine and Murrelet, met by chance or mysterious purpose whilst floating belly up in cyberspacial seas, there sprang an instant Purplex connection Peregrine recognized immediately. He enjoyed the mutual appreciation when he chanced to think of it of Murrelet, after escalating email intersections and an exchange of mostly outdated photos. And they were both rhapsodic about Brahms’s Violin Concerto; indeed, it became “their song.”

Murrelet dreamed of Peregrine when she couldn't help it, but she couldn't control his movements; he was always walking away from her. Perhaps her most recent photo needed a professional touch-up. She feared she was aging too rapidly, but eschewed Botox because well, that was not her thing.

Peregrine never dreamed of Murrelet or if he did, did not recognize her. His dreams were full of flying objects and battles. He had been a reluctant parachute trooper during the Vietnam War, a rising Hollywood screenwriter, even an idealistic FBI agent for a brief time. He had been a lawyer of some repute, waging battles against corporate giants poisoning rivers and skies. Thus, his dreams were like action films, exceedingly crowded. They were also opaque, refusing light. Murrelet wondered if she would always be an extra Peregrine would never really see.

Peregrine was currently a Canadian Mountie. Said he loved mountains and horses and air and occasionally rescuing people, that was that, but in truth he was somewhat vague about life oh what is life and terribly cynical seeming. Yet it was clear he had attempted Love in its various tuneful permutations and had in fact perhaps succeeded or at least come close on occasion. He said once that he couldn’t decide if he had actually lived through all the sublime and ridiculous events he imagined he’d survived, including near extinction by a storm of shrapnel in a swamp and condemnation by a gang of Hollywood producers and on hindsight poor choices in adorable mates. No, these were real things, happenings he’d beckoned. He had to take responsibility, "own" his past, he'd decided. Come to me, he’d asked whatever was approaching, come to me I am a hero I must be, but am not I know not but am somehow brave despite. I want so much to save, want so much, he sighed, but no matter, I am fine. He’d fallen many times. He now wanted “to simplify” himself, he maintained. Sitting up straight in the saddle might be sufficient; yet that was no minor achievement.

Meanwhile, Murrelet was frantically belly dancing, a temporary occupational measure to ward off further corporeal disintegration and exorcise unhealthful cynicism and related "negative" thoughts about life on Earth after an exhausting career as a perpetually perplexed solitary criminal defense attorney. Battling uphill, Murrelet too had attempted Love, finding it a funhouse room of delightful and opaque reflections. She had smelled death inside the box that contained her father’s ashes. And she was intimate with betrayal. Mother was in the land of dementia, needed to know she was alive and why. Her brother had long ago disappeared into a dangerous cult in New Mexico. Murrelet had almost resigned herself to renounce visions of entwining limbs and cozy discussions over the dinner table. She had also wanted “to eschew unnecessary messes.” Until, of course, she chanced upon Peregrine.

It was on a day when she felt as loose as a mongoose floating in the ocean --beyond the reach of mongoose-horn fishers-- that Murrelet asked Peregrine, not innocently really but nearly so, she asked him, wanting him to be her final complete metaphor. She invited him to come in she did. Into her life, rather than on its outskirts. He would take a train from the wilds of Alberta, Canada to Rochester, New York. He would not fly; airplanes remind him of death. In a moment of clarity, he has acquiesced; in that instant, he is not afraid. There is no turning back once he has promised. He is a man of his word, as well as deed. Indeed.

Hours away, the Hudson River Purplex is morose by the window in her cell. She can see nothing but the contours of objects, very large they are, far from the sea she can smell so faintly. She cannot see; it is too far away. Her bird bones grow moist with memory.

The train was late and Murrelet was not sure she recognized him. She thought he could be the slender man with the receding hairline, a man who left a parcel on the station platform and then walked away; she thought perhaps a bomb, was going to run, said to herself, let’s not be ridiculous. She thought first I must taste this man I do not know why but I must, it’s in the cards, no not, let’s not be silly. And he was suddenly approaching, the man with the parcel now, so very frightening there until until… she found she knew the shape of his eyebrows, accent marks.

He asked her, “Murrelet, finally?” She grew confused, trying to recall her name. It wasn’t Murrelet, was it? The name sounded so out of sorts, as did he – a nexus of mismanaged energy, of course not her real name, which had also sounded foreign to her sense of self. She bolted, jolted out of kilter, perplexed ran into his arms, she could tell his arms, the spade shaped mole on his wrist she kissed or wanted to really too red with amazement it was he -- Peregrine with his green-grey eyes, circumflexive eyebrows, mouth quivering like the heart of the Purplex Complex, one would imagine. He placed his palm on her breast; it was summer she felt his hand burn. The package contained a very large chocolate covered singing bird music box with a bottle of French champagne attached to its neck. Once one ate the chocolate, the bird would sing the song from the movie "Lili," which starts "The song of love is a sad song, hi Lili, hi Lili, hi lo."

At dinner that night, Murrelet and Peregrine discuss their interpretations of the Purplex. Over mousse de foie gras and sultry Shiraz, they speak of the purity of its hypnotic voice, the allure of its magnificent plumage.

“Of course, we know no one has ever understood the Purplex,” Murrelet says.

“The Enigma of the Birds, Janchek wrote. Don’t you wonder why no one has ever seen two of them together? Of course, there’s that theory about the Purplex, you know. Do you think the bird is singing to woo a mate, or . . . perhaps searching for its mate?”

“That’s one washed up theory. Seriously, I mean it’s irrelevant to me . . . too difficult to prove, almost as tough as trying to prove the existence of a god, which is impossible” Peregrine replies. “To me the bird is like a Bach fugue,” he adds.

“But not that orderly,” she insists, “though intricate.”

“No, not as orderly, though I wish it were,” he sighs.

“The bird is like a poem by Rilke – like all poems by Rilke,” Murrelet speaks almost shrilly, her voice ascending, “so soulful and overwhelming with heart -- both the Simplex and the Complex, the many in the one and the one in the many, alone and apart, yet together. Don’t you agree?”

“Rilke?” he asks. “Okay, yes, but Wallace Stevens as well – the poem about the blackbird . . . . 13 ways of looking at it. You know of course that Stevens had a law degree. He was very precise."

“Well, yes, there are certainly at least 12 ways of looking at a Purplex,” she responds. Adds: "And there are 12 known 'types,' so all in all there are theoretically 144 ways of looking at the Purplex, if I remember my math."

Over steak béarnaise and lusty Bordeaux, Peregrine alludes obliquely to the demands of others, former clients, friends, the family's persistent needs for nurturing, issues with the infantile son, mother with dementia., deranged ex-wife. He forcefully stabs the meat, slices it with cunning precision. "I realize I prefer the company of mountains and horses," he says. "At this time, at least."

Murrelet wants to gnaw on the bone of her buttery lamb shank, bite every bit of meat on it, suck every drop of marrow out of it. She slices the tender flesh with delicacy instead, then cuts it into bird-size pieces, without thinking. Why does she ache for this man, who is pushing her away as well as pulling her toward him, this man who is trying to re-invent himself, in perpetuity, loves Purplexes and Brahms? He’s empathic and battle scarred, as is she. But do these connections add up to Love?

Later, they try dancing together. He is clumsy. She leads, feeling awkward and apologetic. For a brief time, they forget themselves and become a slow dance with one heartbeat. They are so close to one another, there is no room for breath. For a brief time, they have re-invented themselves only for one another; entered an abode of their own construction.

But did they really meet?

The Bernstein Purplex splashes in the bird bath on Murrelet’s patio. The bird has escaped from the cell and flown north, to be contrary, one without imagination might think. She is singing a song about suicidal sailors, civil wars, and ladies of the night; sings so low you can hardly hear, but the birds can. Swallows and pigeons circle frantically above the patio, fly into one another in a daze. A hawk lands on the railing, licks its beak as it gazes with longing at the rare creature as the ascending sun strikes the golden highlights in the Purplex's crest.

Peregrine is inside his dark, dense dreams, tautly coiled like an embryo, wrapped in white satin sheets like a gift. Murrelet watches him; her lips brush the transparent underside of the wrist of his exposed arm. Her lips caress the blue veins like feathers, veins so fragile they seem as vulnerable as he is in his heart/mind entirety, but perhaps this is not how he sees himself. She may never know. Peregrine reaches out to Murrelet, pulls her head to his chest, holds her in his arms. In hours he will return to his mountains and there will be no promises.

But is that all?

The bird replies: "Isn't that enough?"

No comments: