In a Yellow Room (I am Leaving My Lover) In the dream I am always leaving, always just about out the door. I am dressed in my Sunday best clothes, as is she. The sun is scorching and illuminating the inside of the house; everything glows sickly amber, leaving shadows like patinas on burnished copper pots.
I had come for tea with my lover, which she proceeds to prepare for me from a fancy, antique urn. As I drink, I realize that it is only water—enough to keep me alive in this heat, for sure, but far less than satisfactory for my pleasure.
My lover speaks to me in jumbled maxims, like: one man’s meat is a woman’s silent reasoning (or was it secret suffering?)…and oblique questions like: When shall we dine on the fatted calf? I feel she is somehow not right in the head; beautiful, yet with a beauty distorted somehow (was it the heat?), and situated just so, physically unattainable…as if the room was constructed only for my eventual exit, never for staying. My lover’s face grows radiant even in this light, yet I must turn away, faceless, and emerge into the alien, ancient world beyond.
I fear she is an exquisitely composed corpse, or soon to become one. Shall I return to find her here, having drunk the last waters? Or, will the calf be slaughtered and the feast begun?
My Dearest Love
I miss you so terribly when you are away on your journeys. It is unfair never knowing when you will return, or why you must leave in the first place. You don’t have to travel now. You’ve paid your dues. You’ve earned your reputation.
You have so many secrets, yet I know that you love me, and that I love you. But sometimes I am annoyed—no, angry at you—you expect everything to just start up again where it left off, and I, loving you, have no choice but to let you in. I’m sorry to write this, but I just needed to say it. Sometimes I feel like you do not understand me when I speak to you. So I write this letter thinking that maybe writing will make a difference.
I worry about you. Have you been sleeping enough? Are your dreams still so vivid and unsettling? Don’t forget to take the medicine. Remember to drink enough water—sorry!-- there I am doing it again! Sometimes I think that when a man’s mother dies, his lover must assume both roles, but I suppose that for most men, this is the case whether the mother still lives or not! (that was a joke, I think).
Oh, the insurance people came by again, asking more questions. I don’t know what I should tell them so I tell them just what I know: You are an anthropologist and are often gone on long (!) trips,unearthing ancient burial sites... I suspect they must think I am mad. I tell them I don’t know where you are (not a total lie, in reality). Don’t worry! I would never reveal our special arrangement.
Sometimes, upon your returns, I imagine the smell of old dead things still clinging to you. Maybe that is why I insist upon you bathing before we make love, whenever we make love. It seems so long since the last time.
Please don’t stay away longer than you must. Sometimes I fear that I will die in your absence, and you will return to our small farm and find me dead in my chair. I promise to leave fresh water from the well for you! (a terrible joke, I’m sorry).
My love always, M. How many digs have I toiled in over the years—buried up to my waste in thick, stinking mud, or nearly choking on dessert dust? Yet, it is comforting, in a way, to be amongst the elements that will one day envelope me, for good. I so often feel that I am interrogating death itself with my garden trowel and tools—letting death know that as long as I live, I will be digging, and picking, and brushing away its mucky or crusty veils until I have found the thing that is hidden there, or, if not, I will begin again somewhere else, wherever the clues, or the map, leads me. I am as relentless as Mother Nature herself. Ugh! Thatphrase I try to avoid -- “Mother Nature”-- as if nature were so nurturing, so nourishing…hah! A stingy mother at best!...stingy…What am I saying? God! I’m crying like a baby…
For the first time since her death I am crying…not at the funeral, not at the cemetery, and not even as I stood amongst the attic boxes filled with her sweet smelling belongings; her books and bridal clothes…but here in the goddamned dirt of this long-abandoned, settlement, a thousand miles from anywhere sane! I stab the earth with my trowel, and I hear the unmistakable sound of metal hitting fragile solid…shit! I’ve got to be more careful—I know better than to do that! Ugh! What’s the matter with me? I throw away the shovel and begin clawing the earth around the spot like a desperate old dog, my eyes tearing up completely. My hands dredge up a large, heavy chunk of dirt. I wipe my eyes with the back of a dusty hand. Slowly, carefully now, I brush away the looser fill. A small, almost black, skeletal face emerges, staring up at me like a frightened child taken from its mother (how true, in retrospect). This was his home once. But he will have a new home soon. God, how lonely I feel…
Back at the compound, the letter arrives from my love back home, well over a month since she wrote it. For the first time in a long time, I miss her with a great aching inside me. How she worries about me! Damn, I forgot to take the medicine! I hurriedly scavenge for the pill bottle in my back pack. I hate it when she does that! Well, a little anyways. Many years of lengthy, remote digs have left my skin tinged slightly yellow from tropical fevers--why I prefer desert digs, nowadays. I sometimes think that the yellowness of my skin has infiltrated my brain, my mind, my dreams. But that’s silly—irrational--right? Is it some unconscious dread that makes this so? For that reason, maybe, I no longer use a mirror.
I have booked passage by train, and then by steamer for the return home, the evidence I had been seeking, found. I can rest for now, and dream of sitting down to feast with my love. But cross-continent by train is several days’ journey, and my dreams are punctuated by long periods of boredom; the view out the windows is exotic but unchanging. I strike up a conversation with a darkly dressed man of indeterminate age who speaks broken English with a thick, Eastern European accent (Russian maybe?). He is a painter, he says. I wonder what a Russian painter is doing so far from his native land. But he is curious about me, so, I tell him about my occupation, my recent find, my recurring dream of my lover. He seems truly interested—especially in my dream of the yellow room. He strokes his beard, listening attentively. His eyes are penetratingly blue (yet also strained and reddened as if he’d been crying); eyes that seem to see beyond the mere surface of things. He tells me “collecting” dreams is a “hobby” of his, noting that we are both, in our ways, “collectors” of hidden things. We are two strangers from different lands on a train ride across this wild, endless landscape, and we find ourselves not so different, or maybe, being so, we simply choose to note our parallels, to make ourselves less alien to the other.
At journey’s end—and as I mentally brace myself for another, by ship—the painter and I shake hands, wish each other good luck, and part ways in this aging, noisy station. It is always like this when traveling to or from such remote places—like being in a Hermann Hesse novel, is the only way I can describe it. Walking through the throngs of baggage-laden travelers, I am assaulted by a multi-lingual cacophony of greetings, frustrated cursings, and tearful kisses goodbye. I am nearly overcome by a wave of sadness—for home, our simple farm. Sometime later, lying down in my cramped ship quarters, I let my mind slip easily into that half-hallucinatory state of lucid imaginings and visceral longings…
I am walking across the bleached-grass lawn through the old farm house front door. I enter the smallish dining room illuminated in saffron by the late day sun. The room is empty and for a moment I feel helpless, maybe afraid. I sit down at the table. There is an antique water urn (left by my mother) on the table. I shake it slightly and it feels empty. Where has she gone--my love? I hear the cow mooing, suddenly, and the brief squabbling of chickens. The creaking of old wood flooring sounds in the doorway. I look up and she is there, all at once, glowing with sun, two buckets of fresh well water plunked down before her. She smiles lovingly at me, shaking her head slightly, eyes narrowing, like a mother at a mischievous, favored son.
“Well, lover! Aren’t you going to kiss me?”
“Ah, yes, of course, oh…god, I missed you!” I proclaim, as I stand and move towards her. We kiss, softly, then harder, each of us holding the other’s head in place, our hungers’ ending, beginning. She pulls away, slightly. Still smiling, she places her hand against my chest, pushing back gently.
“What is it my love?”
“I have a feast to prepare upon the return of my lover.”
“And I am here!”
“Yes, and you stink of old bones! There’ll be nothing more ‘til you bathe!”
I pull away, momentarily hurt. I feel like a scolded child. But she smiles at me with her radiant face.
“Ah, yes…so I do…” I grab the buckets and walk back through the yellow room. This time, I know, I will be staying.
Michael Anthony Ricciardi
Note: painting – The Yellow Room by Marc Chagall (1953)