And Thusly It Began.


It was some year at some point in history which was apparently unremarkable, at least to me. Among the details that I have forgotten I do recall that it was Valentine’s day and I was in L.A. I had just returned to the Chateau Marmont after having had a less than innocent dinner with my friend Elke, whose husband was conveniently out of town, filming. Her affections had booked a later flight. We had successfully defeated two bottles of champagne at dinner and then, at Elke’s urging, stumbled around Griffith Park in the dark hills overlooking the city.

After that we pinballed down Mulholland, all fuckiddy up. Her husband had called at dinner and she lied when he asked what she was doing. From that point on the evening seemed to be searching for some unspoken permission. We drove around Hollywood for a while before returning to Marmont. I pointed out that champagne spelled backward is “infidelity.” She laughed.

When she dropped me off she wrestled briefly with her own moral compass. The outcome of that bout remained unclear for years to follow. As she pulled away she said, “Write me a letter.” “Write me a letter?” A curious request I thought. In the lobby of the hotel I ran into Wallace Shawn. We chatted for a few minutes about Telluride, the film festival and Vanya on 42nd Street; an adaptation of Checkov that seemed rather relevant at the time. “All we can do is live.” I said. Then I returned to my room.

Sitting on the bed I noted that the mini bar seemed to be calling to me. “Come closer. I promise I won’t tell the front desk.” I plugged my ears with beeswax and instantly lashed myself to the radiator so as not to go mad. Alcohol has long been my Siren’s song and the evening had already presented rocky shores and turbulent seas. I noted too that the hospitality basket contained condoms, a shoe horn and cashews, a premium nut that I had always associated with intimacy.

On the desk there was a folder that contained letterhead and envelopes. “Write me a letter.” I whispered. And thusly, it began.

Let us not speak of this exchange. Let us instead deny that it ever took place, for it seems so vulgar, like racism, that you and I should engage in such discourse about something of which we know so little. Something of which we address more from a sense of loss than a sense of fulfillment. Our arrogance.Our hubris. We speak of the old days and the good times as if they had truly existed. We fill our heads with false memories and we speak their names, their dear names as if they were deity. Which perhaps they are or perhaps they will be, if they ever truly existed. If any of it ever truly existed. Ever, truly.

When you asked if I would write you I wished for all the world that you had never spoken. That your lips had never parted or that your tongue had ever moved. I wished that you had been struck dumb or that your words, your stupid poisoned words had been lost to the air to offend someone else on the other side of the universe, but your callousness spilled out across the void and struck my ears and within an instant, those days, which had been so long gone. Those days which I had struggled to lay to rest, came charging back and tore open the wounds of the past.

Every scale of inverse proportion had applied itself in full measure. What once had been light, now devoured light, and what had once been hope, now devoured hope. What had been the dear name was no longer and it was all due to that unremarkable day and your curious need to know. And so there I sat, forced to think of the name that I dare not speak and to recall the days that were so long gone, those days whose proportion was distorted beyond all reasonable measure like some Flemish painting whose perspective curved from point to point in a wholly unnatural view and the name that I dare not speak and the days which were so long forgotten had become ensconced at the center of that landscape and remained there, unmoved – as a church remains unmoved. As the pillars of Chartres remain unmoved and uncaring and unemotive. Indifferent to my needs, my frailties, my desires. That name which I will not speak had filled my heart to its very brim and then drained it as if it were a pool in winter. And yet, if I could look into those eyes one more time and see that smile and smell those smells, or taste those lips upon my lips then I would endure that pain again, as gladly as one accepts a host upon one’s tongue. But I will not taste those lips or smell that smell and that truth, that wretched truth has been carved upon my life as if it were a tombstone.

I do not delight in this pain. I do not desire to wallow in a pool of the name that i will not speak or remember the days, so long forgotten. I do not want to dwell upon yesterday’s happiness or the once was. You have started my life unraveling, like some medieval shroud, and created a chaos, like the bones of a reliquary turned to dust as they breathed in the air of centuries of isolation. Will we ever speak again? Will we utter familiar sounds or trace our hands along a familiar smoothness? I wonder. You and I, we are full of nothing. Sated by nothing. We are empty. You and I.


I placed my pen upon the desk a stared at the pages for a moment. Then I stood up and walked to the window, opened it and looked out at the bungalows and the gardens below. It was warm for February. Things were green and flowering and that metaphor extended well beyond the flora. Back home in New York it was miserable and damp and gray, and that metaphor extended well beyond the weather. I took a drag off an imaginary cigarette, exhaled and then with the hand of a magician, flipped the butt out into the night sky. The glowing embers trailed off like tiny fireworks and that analogy became the metaphor for the evening. “God I’m clever.” I thought. I returned to the desk, uncapped my pen, retrieved an envelope from the folder and realized that I did not have Elke’s address.

Thom Middlebrook