Gordon As A Hurricane

as published in Black River Review

Following the death of his father, Gordon took on the amorphous characteristic of the wind. I knew it immediately, felt it. Walking beside him, he was suddenly extremely different. He seemed everywhere, nowhere, forming, unforming, dispersing. I know him well enough to know what he was doing, well enough to know when he gets an idea in his head, and long enough to know what he can manage. There are times when I want to be somewhere else, someone else, wish I could be delivered out of some specific pain or discomfort by taking myself away, but I am Melanie Griffith in lime taffeta for a minute, and then I'm finished. Gordon will determine to be something, and then manifest its nature so that his presence seems to change without appearing to, an extension of thoughts determining behavior, eyes reflecting the mind. I have seen him become landscapes, rolling hills, patches of dark forest when we are driving, for instance, but it was something different, something less obvious, something reverent, contemplative, and always subtle, never to the extent of what Gordon became after the death of his father, nothing to the extent of Gordon becoming a hurricane.

I felt it at the graveside, felt his presence disseminate, felt it fade more than is normal to Gordon under stress; felt him metamorphose, saw his attention follow the trail of a wind that had come up as we stood, come up warm and tropical feeling, circling around us as if to see what was happening, who were the faces, who had been delivered, and where would he or she lie in their eternity. It lifted our coats, the hair from our necks, as if sniffing us, testing our intention, whistled high through the trees for the delight of the children, then snapped like the tail of a whip and was gone, free and traveling. I felt it then, felt Gordon lift, satiny, beside me.

We had come the day before, had entered the hidden world of cemeteries behind gas stations, and up narrow dirt roads, clearings in the middle of tall groves, hillside parcels wedged above highways.

"I didn't know this was here," Louisa, Gordon's mother, said. "Did you?" She asked me. "I didn't know any of this was here. Now I'll think about it all the time," she said.

Gordon was sitting quiet in the back seat. I opened the door and got out of the car. Light was filtering through Douglas fir and madrona trees, settling unevenly over erect angels and marbled hands in prayer. "It's nice," I said.

"I'll stay here," Louisa said.

Gordon would not get out of the car either, so I walked around a small, leaf-framed clearing like an actress waiting for some kind of direction. "What about here? The sky is directly overhead," I said, inching one way and then another to give them an idea. Gordon stared blankly at me through the car window, which mirrored me standing stiff with the trees around me. Louisa opened the door of the car and got out.

"It could be peaceful," I said, pacing up the hill to give her the full scope of what I thought was a good section. "There would be half-shade in the summer," I said, over my shoulder, "and a beautiful view of the stars at night, the birds in the daytime. It's a happy place," I said, and turned back to see Louisa squatting at the side of the car, urinating loudly into the dirt. "Louisa," I said.

"I had to pee," Louisa said.

I looked at Gordon, who by then was getting out of the car, rigid looking, as if his head and spine had locked. He stood up and went around the front, then angled off in a direction of his own, his long, tense strides avoiding headstones, mossy mounds, plastic flowers.

I caught up to him.

"Her," he said, seeming not to open his mouth to let the word out, it swimming somewhere inside him. "Her," he said again, "there has to be room for her. She would want to be . . . ." He turned his head directly away from me and I could see his throat closing around the rest of the sentence.

"Oh, Gordon," I said and glanced back at Louisa in her yellow crepe, dress sitting inside the car again, smelling of Tweed perfume, as I knew she did, smelling of powder and hand cream, faint traces of cinnamon and nutmeg, and grease from her kitchen, the stale smoke from the Pall Mall cigarettes Gordon's father had smoked, day in and day out. "Oh, Gordon," I said.

"What do we do? " he said, still not looking at me.

"I don't know, I said, "There are no reservations. You can't make a reservation here. It seems to be first come, first serve. I don't know what to do."

Louisa waved, her glasses catching the sun's rays so that she looked like an alien in the front seat of the car.

"Where I was standing close to the tree," I said softly, "could be measured in such a way that nobody would want to be in between. I don't think anybody would want to be between there and the tree," I said. "I think we could do that. That way, when the time comes, Louisa could be there."

Gordon's way of fading in a person's presence is usually as if something falls out of him, or slips around behind him, or hurries away over the floor, or the pavement, or wherever, which in my own quiet way has fortified my faith in the existence of the soul, and it's as if his is delicate, or badly fastened within him, and is easily wrenched away. It seems ill fitted, or in possession of a mind of its own, which leaves me in question about the method and order of creation. I don't know if there's a backup to souls or not, an auxiliary, so to speak, as when power goes out, a working generator. With Gordon, something takes over and gets him through, while the other is outside somewhere. Walking back to the car with Gordon, I was almost afraid to leave.

When the wind came up around us the next day, I saw Gordon mentally following its course, which was detectable as a slithering snake. I reached for his hand and found it limp in mine. Someone was saying how Jim, Gordon's father, had been one of the "real ones," one whose "descendants had crossed over the Great Plains to the Promised Land," one from the line of "strong and stalwart ones." I looked at the container that held Jim, and thought about him inside, his nicotine stained fingers, his face lined with the strain of too much alcohol. I wondered, as with Gordon, which one was him, the outside or the inside. I knew him to be fearful, not to be able to speak because of this fear, to have a voice that was self-conscious and unsure. I knew his eyes to speak for him, and they seemed always to be asking for help. I knew that when he drank, there was still another Jim, a wrathful and unforgiving Jim. I wanted to say something, wanted to say how he had always been one step ahead of his family, running away when he had the chance, which may have been a part of the strong Jim, after all, the pioneer Jim, wanted to say how he was, even now, that one step ahead, and had finally got out of sight like his ancestors had in another way, but I didn't think it appropriate. I squeezed Gordon's hand when there was a long silence, but he was somewhere by then, in the circle of trees where the wind was, and I knew he could not say anything.

Being a believer in souls, I had the distinct feeling that in the trees, also, were observers hanging like ornaments, or sitting poised as soft feathers, cottony seed carriers; curious as a crowd in a stadium. I thought of Jim in his white heaven clothes, his white head covering and slippers, and I hoped he would rise and go where demons and darkness were taken away, then return to this peaceful spot someday, to while lofty in the trees, too.

When Louisa, who is shy, turned to address the people who had come, her small hand trembled holding onto the back of the folding chair, and I put my arm around her waist, wishing Gordon would lend some strength. But Louisa was intent upon being proud, upon doing the right thing in her way, speaking the words I think she had always wanted everyone to know.

"He was a good man," she said, "That's all I have to say. He was a good man," she said.

I considered what this might mean to her, what it meant to Gordon if he had heard. I did not know Jim to be a good husband or father, and I wondered if everyone was reaching into his or her hearts and memories to find where that title might apply. I knew Louisa wanted this final image to rest with him and she was able to lay it over him like one of her handmade quilts, and it could stay that way forever now.

Gordon and I do not discuss things. He does not share my picture of the soul. "Ashes to ashes," he says, but I witness him wishing for something else. I looked at Louisa and realized that probably all the time she and Jim were married and grew more disappointed and confused, it was he and she sharing their lives as communing souls, ever perfect in each other's eyes. This was the Jim she was talking about. She had let us into her heart. I stood over her when she sat back down.

"I think it's important you grieve," I said to Gordon a few days later.

"I am grieving," he said.

"You haven't cried," I said. "You haven't shed a tear. It has to go someplace."

"I'm fine," he said, but had a strange expression on his face.

The pages of the book I was holding rippled on my lap, a breath crossing over them. I looked up at him.

"Do you feel any anger?" I asked carefully.

"Why would I be angry?" Gordon said. "Whom would I be angry at?"

"God," I said. Hello in there. "God," I repeated.

"Of course not," Gordon said, getting up and walking across the room to the kitchen, leaving the fireplace echoing, the glass on the chandelier softly hitting together, the flames of the candles on the coffee table, slanted. When he sat back down, he had that quality of being before me and gone at the same time, a painting made of a million points, form and space simultaneously. I wondered if I moved around him, would I cause him to sway from the force of my current, if he would drift and bend and swirl into some kind of colorful, particled eddy.

"I'm fine," he said, seeing me watching him.

All night long Gordon murmured in his sleep; soft, low sounds almost like music, full of motion, gliding, traversing. When he turned in his sleep and his arm went around me, his body was damp, the palm of his hand moist and smelling fragrant, as if he had touched tiger lilies, gardenias.

At four in the morning, the telephone rang. It was from the emergency room at the hospital.

"Mr. Hughan, we have your mother here. She's O.K. but she's been in a slight automobile accident."

When we got there, Louisa was sitting on a chair in the examining room, sitting with her hands on her lap, composed and calm. She smiled and stood up when she saw us, greeting us as if we had walked into her house to have Sunday dinner.

"Mother," Gordon said, "what were you doing driving your car at this time of morning?"

"She was driving around and around," the nurse said, gently. "She was driving around and around since midnight. She went through a stoplight."

"I couldn't find it," Louisa said. "I couldn't remember where it was. I wanted to see him," she said.

Gordon drove his mother's car back to her house. Louisa went with me there, not speaking, small as a child in the seat beside me as though she had shrunk two sizes, her dress loose around the collar and at the wrists, her legs barely visible under the fabric. I didn't know if her feet were touching the floor of the car.

Inside the house Gordon's nervous strides took him through the rooms, checking, as always, to make sure lights were on, electrical appliances were plugged properly or not plugged, heaters were away from walls, screen doors fastened. Louisa stood quietly in her kitchen, where there were signs that said, "Kiss The Cook," "Bless This Mess."

"What am I supposed to do?" she said. "There is still half a sandwich in the refrigerator. There is still one of his shoes under the bed. There is still toothpaste on his toothbrush. What am I supposed to do here?"

"You know you can stay with us," I said. Louisa just shook her head.

By the time we left, the sun was coming up, a light blue ribbon above the horizon, the clouds flat and still, tight together as if they had come to the end of a wall, the ones coming bunching up on them. Louisa had been in bed but now she was standing outside the door in her fuchsia-colored gauzy nightgown, all of her body showing through. Gordon, still and flat as the clouds, walked back to Louisa to help her to bed, but she was on the porch again by the time he was partly down the walkway.

"I'll do it again," she said, "I want to be with him," she said, and went into the house, which as she closed the door, itself seemed altered in some fundamental, irreversible way, seemed changed, in front of me, and Gordon, too, because he didn't move for the longest time. It felt to be falling swiftly into a giant vacuum of the past, closing up with all the things inside, all the memories, all of a lifetime of two people, photographs, a cedar chest full of Gordon's childhood things, Louisa's "Queen Of The Ball" red velvet dress, vinyl records of Roy Acuff, The Sons Of The Pioneers, Eddy Arnold, silverware in drawers, and lace tablecloths, crocheted doilies for the backs of chairs, valentine cards, old medicine. It felt to be enclosing Louisa inside it to sail away like a bubble, windows with the blinds drawn, an awful silence, sail away to the dimension of time it belonged in, Jim and Louisa's.

Gordon stood there looking at it, then took off across the lawn toward the road, running, the dawn all the way up grapefruit-colored, blood-red on the horizon, a dense moisture in the sky gathering at the bottom. He ran through the neighbors' yards and across to the park. I watched his white tennis shoes more than anything, transfixed by them in that orange light, going here and there, getting smaller and smaller. I should have called out to him, or followed him to take him home, but I was suddenly struck by the force of motion and how unstoppable all of it was; life, death, and terrible, unspeakable pain; and even true love. I couldn't stop any of it and I felt insignificant as a leaf, Louisa in the house and Gordon halfway to town. I leaned against the car and closed my eyes, and was there a few minutes when I felt large drops of rain, one on my cheek, one on my shoe, then on the roof of the car, wide quarter-size pieces of a storm. I looked up and saw the trees bending at their tips, heard their yawn and creak, smelled the salt in the air as though the oceans somewhere was sending up giant waves.

"Gordon," I said, feeling he had come back and was hiding. "Gordon," I said, pulling my coat together, "for heaven's sake."

All day and night it got worse and worse, the rain coming hard, the wind taking power and telephone lines, trees falling across streets and highways. I heard sirens all night, the beep beep beep of power company trucks. I got up often to see if Gordon had returned, and was asleep in front of the fireplace. I turned on the radio by our bed and listened to the news, the light on the dial reflecting the Japanese fan onto the wall. I stared at it and fell asleep again, the wind not letting up. And then Gordon was beside me, turning when I turned, moving when I moved. I felt his breath on the back of my neck; his body pushed close to mine, the sheets and pillowcases around him wet and saline.