Cobalt Blue Eyes
The afternoon has cleared up at last
And the rain is thoroughly falling
Or maybe it fell. Rain is a thing
That indeed happens in the past.
Jorge Luis Borges, The Rain
It had been a long time since I went to parties. I secluded myself in my beach house and took up painting, a hobby that I had neglected for decades because of my job as a literature teacher. For years, I tried to imbue my students with the benefits of critical reading of universal classics and the correct use of metaphors, oxymora, pleonasms, hyperboles and the flow of consciousness in monologues.
Most of them were excited to hear me talk about Hemingway’s iceberg theory, which says that a good writer should not show or explain absolutely everything, as happens with that semi-submerged ice mountain that leaves only a part of the whole in view, with most of its volume hidden below the surface of the water. I even drew the iceberg floating on the ocean, as if it were stalking the Titanic.
However, I suspect that the great Ernest’s striking personality as a tough, bellicose and adventurous individual accomplished the miracle rather than my words. I climbed the iceberg to the top hand in hand with the great master.
Consequently, since I had retired, eight years ago, I dedicated myself full time to painting. My thing was figurative art, the beach, the sea, the seagulls, the multi-coloured little boats of fishermen returning at sunset with their nets sometimes empty. In the background, the pine forests of the Pacific provided the perfect setting.
So. when Dennis insisted that I attend his birthday party at his house, my first impulse was to refuse. The years of confinement had made me a happy hermit.
“You have to come, Benjamin. It is not a big thing. Lifelong friends will attend along with others who have just joined my circle, like you. Not in vain are we neighbours.”
Dennis and Theresa’s house faced the sea like mine, only two hundred yards away. The only difference was that my house was much more modest, almost a cabin, a lonely and cosy haven. Instead, his was sheer ostentation, starting with size.
“I have no clothes for a special occasion like this,” I complained.
“Not that you were a bride! Here on the beach the style is informal. Besides, no one is going to look at the clothing of an inveterate bachelor and curmudgeon like you.”
I did not want to go into detail about his concept of my single status. Anyway, I had no choice but to accept.
I was wondering what to bring Dennis as a gift. A shirt could be a troublesome item, because I did not know his preferences and I would have to go shopping. The obvious would have been to steal a bottle of some great California wine from my cellar, say a Napa Valley Cabernet Franc or a Sonoma County Pinot Noir, but I never did like the obvious.
I rummaged in my closet until I found a miraculously clean white crew neck T-shirt. I completed my outfit with black jeans, a navy blue two-button sport coat and some basketball shoes. I trimmed my grey beard, which was messy. I looked at myself in the mirror and judged that I looked reasonably presentable.
I went out at dusk, carrying my gift. The waves were rolling gently up the beach and the foam glowing phosphorescent guided me through the wet sand. The starry sky began to cover with storm clouds, announcing rain.
It took me no more than fifteen minutes to arrive. String lights lit the wooden descent to the beach at Dennis and Theresa’s. Mellow party music was playing.
Theresa came out to meet me with a glass of champagne in hand.
“Thanks for coming, Ben! What are you bringing there?”
“A surprise for your husband.”
We entered the house, already full of guests. Dennis came up to me smiling and hugged me.
“We have brought the old lone wolf out of his lair!”
I gave him his gift, wrapped in Kraft paper, with no ribbon or bow. He opened it, intrigued, and stared at it in amazement.
“One of your paintings! I didn’t know you painted that well!”
Then Dennis gestured for the music to stop, led me to the centre of the room, and proclaimed, holding up my painting, “Meet Mr Benjamin Randall, the best painter on the west coast!”
Everyone present celebrated with laughter and cheers, raising their glasses.
Then Dennis took me to a corner and said, “I want to introduce you to an old friend of mine who has something in common with you: she is a literature teacher, too. However, I didn’t ask her if she also paints. Her name is Margaret Seymour …”
A sudden chill pierced my heart. It could not be her! How long had he not seen her? Fifteen, eighteen years?
Moments later, he was with a glass of white wine in hand, on the wide veranda overlooking the beach, feeling the moist sea breeze mixing with a few drops of rain that threatened to turn into a downpour. Next to me was Margaret, a magnificent Greek statue, imperturbable and more beautiful than I remembered. I found myself staring at her hypnotized, trying to say something that was not stupid. I started with the first thing that occurred to me, “How are you?”
Margaret Seymour looked at me a little uneasy with her deep-sea blue eyes.
“What’s your name? Ben, I think that’s what Dennis said. I really liked your marina drawing at sunset. You paint really well.”
My soul fell to the ground. Has she forgotten me? Was she playing a joke on me? Just in case, I continued with his game.
“No one, not even the rain, has such small hands,” I recited, from the famous poem by e. e. Cummings. Even more famous since Woody Allen had included it in his movie Hannah and her Sisters. Last time it had become half joking in our private code of conversation.
“I see there are several of us who have watched the same movie,” she said casually. Or has the rain inspired you now?”
Damn Maggie. She was making it difficult for me. I started reciting:
“Lady, crying at the crossroads / would you find your love / in the twilight with his greyhounds / and the hawk in his glove?“
She looked at me intrigued.
“Wystan Hugh Auden?”
“Yes. One of your favourite poets, if I remember correctly. And I think you also liked the music of Charles Mingus.”
Maggie looked at me even more intrigued.
“Did we know each other before?”
Again that stabbing pain in the middle of the chest, a little deviated to the left. For me that night in the Seattle hotel, after the presentation of Philip Roth’s latest novel, so long ago, had been unforgettable. It was difficult for me to find the right words to recall our fleeting encounter.
“Sometimes, in the infinity of time and space, we coincide …”
Now Margaret Seymour looked at me flattered and curious.
“You must be mistaking me for another lady. Maybe Auden’s.”
“That’s a literary lady. You are more than real.”
“In reality until recently I was living with the man of my life. Which sadly is gone. And everyone here knows that I was always faithful to him.”
I looked at her for a hint of doubt in her statement.
“You never told me his name,” I countered.
She smiled at my insistence without blinking.
“Surely our relationship was not so important as to tell you all the details, my mysterious painter and poet of the marine coast.”
“It certainly wasn’t like that at the time. But I will never forget cobalt blue eyes like yours, Maggie.”
Suddenly Margaret blushed. Her face turned the colour of cadmium vermilion red and then paled.
“I hope we haven’t gotten involved in an embarrassing matter.”
“The only embarrassing thing about that night was that we were both routinely married and happily drinking. Moreover, we both had copies of The Plot against America signed by the author. By the way, I was also a literature teacher.”
“Then we have where to start, again.”
At that very moment, Theresa appeared with a large birthday cake with lots of candles. Someone turned the music down and we sang the Happy Birthday song. Excited, Dennis started to blow out the sixty candles that threatened to be too many. Finally, he succeeded.
The night flew by with Maggie. We laughed, we drank wine and we talked about poetry, about music, about love fantasies. She swore she still did not remember me. I swore I had never forgotten her.
We talked about Baudelaire and the cursed poets, Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, Truman Capote and Harper Lee and Italo Calvino and his Invisible Cities and how twisted and delicious Chuck Palahniuk was to us. She even recited a poem by Jorge Luis Borges that talked about the rain, in her imperfect high school Spanish. I refrained from telling her that I had learned the language of Borges while studying the work of the blind bard in Buenos Aires.
When we said goodbye to Dennis and Theresa at midnight, bringing us a cold unopened bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, no one was surprised. We slipped down the beach, running across the sand, taking advantage of the fact that the rain had subsided.
A polychrome night of old and new memories awaited us, punctuated by the marine rain that happened outside, the nostalgia of Borges recalling a minutely shredded rain that maybe resided in the past, the delicate hands of Cummings and the layered counterpoint of Mingus jazz, outlined by impetuous brushstrokes of titanium yellow, chrome oxide green, toasted Sienna earth, drunken laughter of joy and Egyptian cotton sheets.
(Excerpt from the poem The Rain by Jorge Luis Borges translated by the author)
Marcelo Medone (1961, Buenos Aires, Argentina) is a fiction writer, poet and screenwriter. His works have received numerous awards and have been published in magazines and books, individually or in anthologies, in multiple languages in more than 40 countries.
He currently lives in San Fernando, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
Facebook: Marcelo Medone / Instagram: @marcelomedone
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