26 Jul

Yet marked I where the bolt of Cupid fell:

It fell upon a little western flower,

Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,

And maidens call it love-in-idleness.

-Oberon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Her voice smells like violets crushed underfoot, a pungent whisper of a scent, the kind that comes in a crystal-cut perfume bottle.

“ – a meeting tonight, I won’t be home until ten,” she’s saying, the crackle of phone static distorting her voice. But even though she is fifteen miles away, shunted into a ten-by-ten cubicle on the fifth floor of Baker & Allen, he can still smell the violets on her breath. “No need to get me anything to eat, I’ll scrounge up something on the way home. Bye, honey.” A pause. “Love you.” The message ends with a harsh beep, and the cool monotone of his cell phone asks him if he would like to delete it. He jabs his index finger at the number pad, indicating that no, he would like to store the message away in the annals of his phone so that he can take it out like a favorite memory and savor the smell of her voice.

For a moment, he wonders whether to call her back, wish her luck for the meeting. But in the end fear overrides his desire to speak to her. What if she’s busy? Talking with her boss? Making another phone call? Out to lunch? He has become irrationally terrified of talking on the phone. Confronting the mechanical silence of the answering machine makes him talk softly, his words coming out in short, incoherent bursts. Nerves make him run his hands through his hair, which is an un-color of dull brown and gray, and he feels his fingers slide over the bald spot that tops his scalp, a traitor to his body. That morning he had tried to brush a few strands over it, but they only hang there limply like colorless pieces of dental floss, concealing nothing.

He paces, nervous, counting his steps as they echo through the empty house. One, two, three, four. Turn. One, two, three, four. Turn. One, two… Doing this makes him feel secure, and if someone asked him why he would not be able to answer. It is the same compulsion that makes him languish by the window for hours during the night, waiting for a star to fall into his open hands. It is the aloneness that makes me do these things, he thinks to himself. If Allison were home more often, then maybe I could…

Could what?

He hasn’t told her about these compulsions, which have begun to lurk in the crevices of his mind, secrets without names. He is getting older, his eyes turning rheumy and pale as though he had left them out to dry in the sun, and the space between them is becoming uncrossably wide. He has seen her staring a moment too long at one of her coworkers when he escorts her to work functions. Thomas, he thinks. His name is Thomas. Thomas is young and animated and sharp, unlike himself. When he looks in the mirror he sees a blurred outline, as if he were a figure drawn in pencil that someone has rubbed out with water.

Allison will not be home at ten. He knows this.

He takes out his phone and replays her message, wishing he understood himself again, that he understood any of this. He closes his eyes as he smells the violets on her breath and remembers when they were young, when the morning sun tasted like eggs fried in butter in a house full of windows.

“Would you like to make a call?” his phone asks him when he is done.

He considers the question. “No,” he tells it, and begins to pace again.


2 Responses to “Love-in-Idleness”

  1. www September 18, 2013 at 5:53 am #

    First of all I want to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.

    I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your mind prior to writing.
    I’ve had difficulty clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out.
    I truly do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to
    15 minutes are wasted simply just trying
    to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips?

    • elizabethballou September 18, 2013 at 7:42 am #

      Thanks so much! I’m glad you’re enjoying it. And I’ll try to give you a few pieces of advice (although I don’t know how much they’ll actually help!). The fear of the blank page is one of the most intimidating aspects of writing. You’ve already succeeded by getting past those first 10 to 15 minutes. I often view that time as “warming up” and stretching my writing muscles as I figure out where I’m going with a story/essay/poem. Don’t look on them as a waste; rather, as something necessary to ascertain where your creative energy is taking you. And if you really have no idea what to write, you can always google “creative writing prompts” or some other iteration of the phrase. Once you get things rolling (whether it’s what you originally intended on writing or not), it’s easier to trust your instincts and write without strangling your own voice.

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