What Comes After a Bucket of Vinegar?
whatwhen she came in. Kristen had decided to meander effusively on mandolin, looking to sing for me at the airport.
As a soldier I travel to many places, even on the commercial airlines. I’ve chugged over the frigid, snowbound Rockies in a twin prop tin plane, rainbows of sunstream glinting through the plastic portholes. That time snow was coming down, there was a roll-up elevator of stairs, down which disembarkation from twinned seats took place. I travel with Susanne, thin, oh so thin having borne a child and a great big smile on her, cut the cold like diamonds on ice.
We were serenaded and garlanded the blue and hot morning the other, the first, occasion, going into Hono airport as Susanne called it, voice cut off by the rising scream of the jet engines.
That trip, Susanne and I went in to Maui to do recon. intel. work, catching up in fact with a professor who, when a student, had spat on my face on the tarmac at Kennedy in 1970. I had choppered out of Saigon, hopped from carrier to carrier to Tokyo, then flew commercial, Tokyo-London-New York. Susanne was not with me then.
We were to interview, during the time we were in Maui, at the University of Pelloponesia, Susanne and I, the student become professor, going over as well a graduate lesson to be taught mainly to pupils subbing off from intel. work. When we arrived there news was all over the island that we should be received well.
Kristen, who I had loved when I was sixteen, finding her free and vicious, met me with her lute, switching off to an Hawaiian guitar at times, then re-appearing in skirt and garland. What abdominals! She had married the student made professor, Raymond. Had lived in Hawaii on six month and was getting into the local custom. Raymond had known I had gone to ‘Nam as a soldier of fortune, paid up and under threat, a friend in his thirties versus Raymond in his early twenties. Raymond held different views, but his anger dissipated when he found out I wound up captured and enslaved harvest time, jungle to ricepaddy, in ‘Nam.
For a change Kristen was happy and balanced. Gave all her love in the two hour welcome. I was able to sub off and have a drink at the airport hotel bar, taking a five minute shuttle now and again, Raymond riding with me and showing me aspects of the locale in the complex of glass and concrete that was Receptions, much the helpful younger man.
After three cognacs I was able to let my mind relax and begin to remember—seeing Raymond and Kristen—my completely unsuspecting love for Kristen at sixteen, and Kristen’s and my time in Montreal through to my seventeenth year where she pursued the study of her fulsome instrument and instrumentation. She followed the successful female, academic musicians of one of the universities there, who were feminist, and she had many a lover well over my head. I served poutine and made espresso in a catch all mall when not on assignment. I was associated by Kristen with my steady job, my income, with the military. She laid me once or twice, in those days.
Even then it was easy to go from travelling with Susanne, so fair and sharp-minded, and disappear into the barista’s apron. Before one of our trips, Susanne would buoy me up with a kiss on the cheek right in front of Kristen, to punish her somewhat for the sexual shenanigans we both knew she was onto with others among the elite. Athletes all.
I had run my best the four and three year earlier and the many longdistance races I ran were known through the provincial school-system that Kristen and I attended. Kristen, a runner of my generation, associated me, in these times, with outstanding ability, though I was much softer than her, never as determined to win at all costs. A Suide, Kristen expressed something of the weakness of the European psyche (as it comes up in North America) in her fall from grace ethically, in her willingness to try to attack my mind at sixteen. Her mother and her one time had thrown me out her house after a session of heavy petting, wanting to entertain a replacement—another, older, young man, crossing my path at the front door as I was filling up with bile and vinegar.
In Montreal, things had been somewhat better. I suspected that Kristen felt I should be got down and bumped up career wise, but I knew as my peer, even as my lover that she betrayed me in some fundamental way, and it was good for me, I guess, to dominate her in subtle ways—always I took advantage of Susanne’s display of affection to punish Kristen’s meanness, her acts of violence even there in that beautiful and old city on the St. Lawrence. I should say that of course, as we are described meeting at the airport, that Kristen and I were not destined to stay together. Overall, I was not ubermench enough to qualify as a husband I think, but Raymond was a great big strong lunk of a guy and I think he and Kristen used each other well, there in Hawaii, at least for a time.
At the hotel after the long and ceremonious welcome Kristen caught up with Susanne and I rosy cheeked and panting from all the exercise. Kristen pushed tightly up against me, shook Susanne’s hand. I produced a squiff and Kristen and I shared it between us, with Susanne, as she always does around me, abstaining. Instead she took up her notebook and pen and began to ask me about Raymond’s interview, reminding me to get details on how he knew I would be landing at Kennedy, and to make inquiries as to the accuracy of the dates when returning GIs were targeted by the angry students. Susanne asked me about the authors of some of the books related to the graduate material—I answered Marichetti for the stuff on the CIA and Lipton for the psychology of compromised doctors.
“Kristen,” said Susanne as she sipped from a bottle of water out the room’s fridge, “did you bring your mandolin to the Hotel? I would love to listen to a few songs while I eat with the boss here.” Kristen smiled, then there was a knock on the room door. It was Raymond. Kristen got him into the room and kissed him for a long time. I took a deep breath, looked at Susanne. I remembered how much younger Raymond was. I was hungry, liked Susanne’s idea about Kristen minstreling for us while we ate.
“Raymond and I have a surprise,” said Kristen, giving me a fetching smile with a bitter edge. “We in turn would like you to play percussion in studio with our friend Ali. He’s well known in Europe and Africa, is visiting here to do a record for release.” Music again. Susanne looked somewhat alarmed, gave me a cautionary look. “We’re here for the interviewing and the classroom work only,” she said.
Raymond chimed in, “The catering at the studio is excellent, it’s all covered, the place is rented up until midnight. The least you could do is eat with us and Ali, though it doesn’t look like you have a choice, it’s gettin’ on supper time.”
Needing to eat I acquiesced and Raymond got me to a waiting car with a local driver. The driver chuckled twice, hearing my stomach growl in the back seat. I could feel the effects of the squiff, noticed the colourful birds in the trees that lined the roadways on the way to the studio. Susanne with Kristen—to join us later—I leaned back and sighed. I could remember Kristen playing mandolin at a table at the poutine place in Montreal, Iseult to my Tristram. Under the tutelage she received in Montreal, Kristen’s playing was, even then, very expansive and womanly. The songs I had taught her she did not play for me anymore, so often she had something new from the university. I turned to Raymond, considered how he had come to know Kristen, meeting her at another school in Baltimore while she and I were together.
“Shall we play ‘My old flame,’ ” I said to Raymond, not knowing if he would know the old song.
“Kristen’s leaving for Europe in nine days,” said Raymond. I wondered if he knew that I wanted to know her again, and as a lover. The old set of desires were inserting themselves, after the press, and Kristen knew the flesh only as an athlete does, got up to feats of heat and strength that I liked to take and taste the fire of.
Raymond paused for a moment and looked uncomfortable. He walked me up to the studio, us out the car front of a big glass building, guiding me once again. I got into the catering after getting off the elevator. The food was laid out in the hallway outside the studio. The girls arrived and dragged me into the studio, an uneaten salmon sandwich in my one hand, a bowl of lentils in the other. The instrument I was to play constituted some joindered wooden slats cut like minature Norman windows. I was to beat time on my leg. The instrument looked to be about half a foot long.
Ali was a chieftain who had three attendants with him who were musicians. He played African blues and I felt quite the conductor, hitting out the time in fours, or divisives of four and being accepted by the other players.
Kristen, having had a long day on mandolin, accompanied all through the recordings on lute, which leant something of the troubadour to the process.
Simple and sweet, during one song, Kristen wandered into a thick and effusive line, very expansive and feminine, and the technician in the studio flipped the mike and cut her off, cut her right down. She began to weep, looked to me and collected herself. One can hear that, listening to the record. She was upset, seemed to find strength in my presence. This made me love her all the more. I myself felt good for a moment.
I was shy of Kristen when the session ended and the girls and I had a brief kiss. I wanted Kristen to be the one closest to me, and following the old pattern, she went the other way and was the constant companion to Ali. Susanne and I made sure we were filled up with food.
Five days later Raymond hosted me, Susanne in tow, at his graduate class. The students were interested in my career, and some affected amazement that Raymond and I had long since got over our differences.
Susanne finished all the reports for the recon. assignment and we flew out of Hono airport the same morning as Kristen, on her way to France. Kristen sported a necklace of platinum ingots. It set off her creamy flesh a certain way.
“Ali says he loves me again,” said Kristen.