the eighty-eighth key
a minor addition to chapter four
(note: when chapter four posts at Lit it will include this extended passage, and rather than call it chapter five here just read it as if it was attached to the last post. I hope you are all doing well under the current trying circumstances; I’m beyond paranoid at this point and am in almost total isolation as I wait for surgery in mid-April. Anyway, please take care of yourself, and as always, thanks for dropping by.)
He turned in the light, reached out and touched her skin once again. Something about her felt utterly impossible to describe, like a sunrise too beautiful for words. He ran his finger down her spine and he felt her tremble as his fingers paused in the small of her back. He played a delicate sonata there, felt the coiled spring inside her winding tight – once again – and he leaned close to whisper all that he felt in her ear.
“I love you, Looney-Junes.”
“And I love you too, my dirty little Harry. Oh, I love you too.”
They came together in the moonlight, holding tight on the a little beach just north of Half Moon Bay, and they did so a million times that impossible summer. After their junior year, before what would be their last year together. Forever, as it turned out. Before their senior year.
They talked and dreamed on that beach all through that improbably probable night, talk just before and forever after, yet Harry always knew something magical happened in that dancing moonlight. He felt it deep inside, like whatever happened had been orchestrated by something as mysterious as the tide, like the moon’s constant tugging on the earth had pulled their bodies into the same orbit.
Yes, Harry remembered thinking, she was what love was supposed to feel like. Something like closer than forever, closer even to believing, something leftover from the beginning, a feeling like starlight – remnants of their coming together, their union, an explosion that would carry them beyond the light.
His Looney-Junes, his little red-headed soul-mate. Eyes so green and freckles all the hell over the place, breasts a little on the small side but he didn’t care because she was his playmate of the mouth. And oh how they played along the frontiers of the things they knew before they crossed over into the promised land, playing in a forbidden field of dreams – while all their explorations carried an ever so slightly real risk that something – well, you know – biological might happen.
And just before Christmas of their senior year it did.
When his Looney-Junes announced her period was a little late.
“How late?” Harry asked and her answer of two to three months didn’t sound like too much to be worried about, or was it? The thing was, neither Harry nor June had the slightest idea. “Maybe you should talk to your mom?”
“Are you crazy!”
“Okay, what about your doctor?”
And she did. And time was running out because Looney-Junes was beginning to show. And Harry was beginning to think about doing what all little boys think about when shit like this goes down, namely buying a ring and asking the love of his life to join him on the journey of a lifetime.
But the thing is, Looney-Junes wasn’t having any of it. Not the ring thing, not the whole having a baby thing, not one fucking little bit of it.
Because, you see, Looney-Junes decided that the best way out involved going over to Oakland and letting an old man with a coat-hanger do his thing, and this was the best way out of their little inconvenience. So one January day that’s exactly what she did, and presto! Faster than you can say septic shock she got sicker than a dog and a week later passed from this life onto the next.
And now Harry Callahan was sitting in the candlelight, looking at an angel’s skin and trying with all his might not to think about those moon-dappled nights on their little beach just north of Half Moon Bay. Playing little sonatas on the small of this strangers back, wanting with all the fiber of his being for everything to be just like it was almost ten years before and knowing that everything right and good with life had simply washed away on an errant tide and nothing would ever be right again.
Her name was An Linh – though everyone called her Cat.
As in Catherine, because her father had worked deep inside the French bureaucratic machinery in Saigon. And though he had been killed years and years before, she still liked the Cat affectation. Men looked at her a little differently, and sometimes men paid her a little more, too. Her other name meant something like peaceful soul, yet Cat’s was anything but. Some of the other girls working the Caravelle considered Cat’s a little too mercenary, perhaps a little too cold and dark, but maybe that was because not very many knew her well enough to make that kind of subtle distinction.
Cat liked men and she genuinely liked to fuck, but she had grown tired of the usual John Wayne macho types that came into the bar looking for a fight night after night.
But this Harry Callahan was different. Really very different.
He made love to her tenderly, too tenderly, she knew, but all-in-all the experience had been, even from her perspective, something special. But perhaps ‘peaceful’ was the word she found herself rolling around in her mind. Yes, peaceful, like the ceiling fan overhead…like a quiet, soothing breeze.
And she found herself amused and aroused by the way he touched her after. Again, everything was so gentle, so out of character with this man-child. She tried to get him to talk but met with a wall that left her high and dry and nowhere to go, so she retreated a bit, coaxed him in ways she knew best and took him again.
Yet now there were tears?
“What is it?” she asked. “Have I done something wrong?”
And so her words broke through and all Callahan’s emotional reserves gave out, and with that collapse everything came out in a rush. All of it. Ten years of anguish, a lifetime of confusion, the burdens of unacknowledged guilt. He buried his face in her hair and cried for hours, told her all about his Looney-Junes, and by the time morning came two things were more than clear: a little Vietnamese prostitute named An Lihn was deeply in love with Harry Callahan, and Harry Callahan – still with no sense of irony in his heart – knew he had finally found his real, lasting, once in a lifetime soul mate.
He left the next morning on a wave of promises to come back as soon as possible. He declared his love, the love he had held onto so tightly for close to ten years, love for his little Cat, to this peaceful spirit, and he cried as he told her he wanted to make this woman his wife. And oddly enough this jaded woman believed what she saw in this ‘round-eyes’ heart and soul, and she took him at his word. She believed in what she saw, and in what she too felt inside.
Yet neither knew of the forces gathering around Saigon, or around DaNang or Hué City. It was just days before the Army of North Vietnam would begin their Tet Offensive. Just days before the fulcrum of History would begin to push such things beyond the reach of mortal hands.
Callahan made it to the transfer to the airport for the flight up to Hué, or more properly to Phu Bai, and as he stumbled down the crowded aisle to find an open seat in the C-47 as his thoughts ranged over the past twelve hours, hours each as long as a lifetime, hours deep inside the impossible warmth of ‘peaceful spirit,’ until he sat on a canvas mesh bench not far from the cockpit.
And then he saw Parish across the center aisle – staring at him, trying to make out the contours of Callahan’s night – then Parish leaned back and grinned. What Callahan knew was a knowing grin, a true ‘shit-eating’ grin, because he knew what was on his own face.
Callahan posted a ‘thumbs-up’ for all to see, and Parish nodded, smiled for all the world to see.
“Hot-damn!” Parish added. “‘Bout time, mother-fucker. Hope you didn’t act like a stupid hick and ask her to get married…”
Callahan leaned back and smiled as the Dakota rumbled down the runway, still awash in the warmth of the night just passed, and dreaming of all the nights yet to come.