Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Arcadian

I outpaced the storm from nearly the Louisiana border, clear across Mississippi and then into the Ozarks. At times, as I ran before it, I could see the pavement darken in the rear view mirrors and feel the cool sweep of wind towards the low pressure at its center.

Staying ahead of it was easier on the highway; the GSX-R’s deficiencies as a touring bike are more than made up for by what I thought of as character. When I Ieft the highway for back roads its handeling essential. Now I raced towards my Arcadian as much as I ran before the storm.

She was smart, rich and beautiful; I met her in the aftermath of Mardi Gras in 1986 and chanced on her not four months on in Fargo. She had an accent both southern and French, being of old Arcadian stock. To tell, her family had a hand in the negotiation of the Louisiana purchase and their fortune stemmed from that.

At one point I passed seven cars and a motorhome with the front wheel a good six inches off the road for the whole half mile it took. I entered the next corner blind and hard on the brakes. It went on like that for half an hour.

I turned into her drive as the storm was on top of me. As the GSX-R came to a halt before the stables, the sky blackened, a great wind came up, and hail rained down hard enough to obscure the great house only a hundred or so meters away. I stepped out of my Aerostich in a manner so graceful it startled even me and raced towards the broad steps, taking them three and four at a time. Not thinking of manners and carried along by the thrill of arrival I plunged though the doors and nearly knocked over a maid carrying a tea set -- on though the foyer, the great room, and a dining room, knocking a table that sent a glass spiraling on its edge in a huge concentric ring. Lightning crackled outside and wind pulled long drapes out of tall windows.

I raced out the French doors and onto the broad patio where I saw her running toward the house in the storm and when she saw me she ran harder still and we clasped in a wet and embrace in hail and thunder.

Laughing we chased each from room to room, in and out of the house, tracking water and mud everywhere. Her parents, whom I’d never met, were passed two or three times in this crazy procession, and began laughing too, seeing their wet daughter laugh so hard. I chased her from the house and caught her on a bridal path that led to what she called the hermitage, a small cottage shingled all over and bermed into a knoll. We ran inside and without a word took off our wet clothes and made hungry love on the bed as the storm raged outside.

When it was over I stood and walked to a desk at the window. On it were an old but very well made draftsman's compass and many pages covered with mathematical formulas written long ago in fine script with a quill pen. A volume of Byron stood open to Would I Were a Careless Child.

She produced a cigarette from a side table and the smoke coiled above her. She enjoyed a smoke after sex and at no other time. After I first kissed her in North Dakota we’d carried on an intense relationship, meeting where her work took her and where I could get to. I knew, then, what passion is, but to say I loved her would have been a distortion of a word I didn’t fully understand.

Her family, rich for generations, married either the most beautiful or smartest from the peasants around them. The result was a slender woman, with delicate hands and a charming wit working toward her PhD. Her grandmother had past away over the winter, and now she would wear her hat to the Kentucky Derby, and someday her daughter or granddaughter would too. This was neither a right nor a privilege but something as simple as a swale drawing water after a summer storm.

I asked her about the meaning of the objects in the room. She said that long ago, the family had hired a tutor to come from the North to educate the family children. It was said the tutor had fallen in love with an aunt in the mid 1800s, but that a fire had killed the aunt when the manor had partially burned down. For reasons never understood the family had let the tutor stay on here, in the hermitage. He died not long after, the family said of a broken heart. “So you see,” she said, playing up the French part of her accent, “it ended very badly,” and tossed her cigarette our the window.

I believe that I knew it was over for us then, right then. Not a moment before or after. I met her parents more properly and we went through the motions of a visit. The food was wonderful and we rode horses around the estate, me clumsily and she like she was born to, because she was. I don’t think I saw her world before that, with its special hats and walnut tables. When I left I held her a long time and when we said goodbye we both knew it was for good.

Two years ago I was checking into a hotel for a conference and she saw me walk across the lobby. A while later she knocked on my door. I was surprised to see her. “I saw you in your suit,” she said, meaning my Aerostich. “To think you’d still have the same one after all these years.”

“No,” I replied, “I crashed the one I had when I knew you, and wore out another too.” That was nearly 30 years ago. I looked into her brown eyes and she was beautiful. When I smelled her I fancied I could still feel her breath on my neck as I had so long ago.

She looked up to see that the hand I held the door open with had a wedding ring on it. “It’s been a long ride for me, I mean, today... on the motorcycle.” There was an awkward silence. “Look,” I went on, “are you here at the hotel?” “Yes” she said, “we can talk later.”

We chanced on each other in lobby and we sat on the large impersonal sofa there. She’d taken a PhD in linguistics and taught at UC Berkeley. Academics, she said, left little time for anything else. She’d never married, and kept a small house in the hills, nothing like the manor, she said, more like the hermitage.

When I left the next day I fancied I could see a thunderhead rising the the west but another part of me knew there was nothing of the sort. I stood in the parking lot for a time and began to weep, watching cars pass on the highway. I hoped nobody I knew from the conference would see me. I did not try and hide myself, but finally stood looking down at my gloves laid across the ignition as the drone of passing cars sang in my ears.

I did not weep for chances missed or days gone by. I climbed on my motorcycle, a man, and headed home.

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