Dave opened his mouth,
An empty page mid-book.
A blank actor.
Silence, expectant, undeniable.
The pause swelled the phone line between Dave and David.
Dave wanted to say, "Go play pool at Linda's. " He remembered past visits there with David and you. "I don't want to go to a bar. " He eyed his drawn blinds. "It's so nice out. "
David cleared his throat. "It is gorgeous today. "
Dave traced a fingertip across holes in the receiver mouthpiece.
"We could go play frisbee," David suggested.
"Sure. " Dave thought of you still. "But not at Volunteer Park. "
"You mind driving over to Gas Works?"
Upon the northern shore of Seattle's Lake Union, Gas Works Park rises from the earth in an unruly manner, hardly typical of a playground. The brute machineworks gussied into a public park bears a vaguely grotesque air of the malapropos, similar to a gorilla in a pink bonnet.
The machines' glory days of coal-firing had ceased long ago. For decades no one could envision any profit from razing the huge iron complex. The gas works lingered as a rusty, lifeless eyesore to boaters and waterfront property owners. The black and brown metals gained slashes of gray and white graffiti: "Class of '65" and "Patrice + Shaun. " In those days before fences and nighttime security patrols -- post-closure but pre-renovation -- the ladders and twisting pipelines offered a challenging obstacle course for adventuresome drunks, and trysting alcoves in predawn starlight. A few too many fatal missteps brought on the security fencing, making the place even more unseemly.
Finally, in a flush of 1970s idealism, grass was seeded over the waste mounds, trees were planted around the employee parking lot, one section of machinery was painted vivid orange and blue, and a shaved-ice stand was built in the shade of the cylinders. Closest to the lakeshore, however, two conglomerations of tanks and towers had been denied the colorful makeover. Their unadulterated hues of aged metal maintained a tart mechanical flavor in the landscape, and upheld a more visible link to the past, even a suggestion of educational or historical intent on the part of the park's re-creators. "The old gas works" was reinvented as "Gas Works Park. " Technological progress and urban necessity became eyesore became tasteless joke became one of the city's most prized landmarks.
Today, in the parking lot, a modest placard advises visitors, "Please DO NOT let children dig in or eat the dirt! Semi-toxic residue from the park's past remains in the soil. " Buried industrial waste, in the form of a black tar, oozes up in viscous slicks, almost as if to spite the park's added niceties. Hurricane fencing has been erected to quarantine the insubordinate sludge, chain-link trapezoids cordoning off grey concrete and green grass besmirched by shiny black tar. There are four such zones in Gas Works Park, none more than 20 feet square. A section of cracked, sticky sidewalk is cordoned off-limits, forcing visitors to detour through the grass. A freewheeling cartwheel or somersault down the hillside now must swerve to avoid a rhombus of restricted grass, suspiciously yellowed with ominous dark roots. The two large, unpainted machineworks are also fenced off, deemed too dangerous for child's play, tempting but tetanus-rich jungle-gyms of pipes, ladders and tanks.
The blunt honesty of the oily and rusty risks does not curtail the park's usage. The park hosts concerts, film screenings, Native American kayak cruises and much more. The chain link restrains only visitors' movements, not views. Every vista, every panorama, every scene can still be seen.
Dave inhaled, pulling his stomach tight. He squeezed through a rip in chain link, stepping over curled claws of wire and into the prohibited space. Tall, dry grass scratched Dave's calves. He glanced around. He felt zoo-like inside the fence. No one yelled at him to stop. He stepped over a bit of piping. He reached for the frisbee.
"Dave, there's a boomerang over there!" David called. Beside his face, his fingers looped through the fence-links. "Can you get that boomerang?"
"Right on. Where?" Dave looked around. Sweat slid under the bridge of his black, thick-framed glasses.
"Around the other side, that big round bit-" David frowned. His freshly-shaved scalp prickled in the sun.
Dave stepped northward.
"No, that square casing, near the spigot-"
Dave corrected his direction. He peered down at the welded-shut cube of antique mechanics. He thought it resembled a storage locker from his Army days at Fort Lewis. He'd seen one with a plant growing out of it in the window of Six Arms. Six Arms had been your favorite restaurant, the one you'd always suggested when Dave and David and you went out to dinner together, not for the food but for their private brews. Six Arms' strange-flavored seasonal beers had never failed to seduce you, the startling flavor juxtapositions such as jalapeño ale and espresso stout, at which Dave and David had wrinkled their noses. Dave and David had opted for reliable IPAs or hearty porters: time-tested brews which now, in your absence, seemed simply dull.
David watched Dave bend over. Dave wore a sleeveless white A-shirt, brown wool suspenders, and gray canvas pants cut off below the knee. David thought of that painting of peasant threshers brandishing scythes, but couldn't glean the title. 'The Reapers?' That can't be right -- sounds more like some heavy metal band than agrarian Realism.
Dave grabbed the orange plastic blade nestled in the brittle grass. Dave's lanky figure folded onto itself as he bent, like the legs of a card table. The lock of black hair dangling from his forehead -- his between-cigarette fidget toy -- swung forward. He straightened himself. He held the boomerang aloft for David to see. The white frisbee hung limp in his other hand.
"That's great!" David said.
Dave squeezed back through the gap in the fence.
He's so thin, David thought. Is he losing weight?
Dave waved the boomerang and took off with it, putting distance between them so he could try it.
David felt a bit of relief: the boomerang's discovery temporarily suspended their frisbee-playing. The simple linear volley of the frisbee back and forth had felt simplistic, its elementary binary made him long for the triangular relationship he had been used to, more complex, richer, smoother. For the past six months, it had been merely David and Dave, with no indication of your return. D 'n' D. It felt naked somehow, almost embarrassing.
David's focus shifted from Dave practicing the boomerang, to the hillside beyond. A cement plateau crowned the hill, inset with a mosaic of astrological signs. There, a woman and girl flew an orange kite shaped like a Japanese goldfish. They'd probably bought it down in the International District. Chinatown, Dave still called it. A man juggled oversized alphabet blocks. Two boys careened mountain bikes down the hill's face, shirts flapping open as they dodged a fenced-off section. They nearly ran over someone suntanning, who didn't look anything like you, David told himself. He shaded his eyes. He scratched the sweaty armpit of his T-shirt, olive green too dark a color for this brilliant weather.
Dave followed David's gaze and looked back over his shoulder at the suntanner. Younger than you were, Dave thought. Way too young for David. Fuck. He turned back to David, smiled, and raised his eyebrows. He blew his forehead lock up in the air. Dave threw the boomerang, slicing high up into the air, and waited. The boomerang returned wildly, grazing his hand but eluding his grasp. "Fuck!" Dave shouted, shaking his hand. He sucked his fingertips, bent, and grabbed the boomerang. "I can get it to come back," he called to David, "but I can't catch it. " He shrugged.
David watched Dave practice his throw, snapping his wrist, jerking the boomerang forward without releasing it, stabbing the air. He appreciated the boomerang's singularity. Trading turns felt more comfortable, a together-yet-separate way for them to spend time, like a family watching TV.
David tried to walk a fine line with Dave, not to avoid him but also not being so transparently consoling as to make your absence even more apparent. David didn't ever invite Dave over; he knew Dave would no longer feel comfortable in David's new apartment among the pictures of you, you with Dave, you with David, you with Dave and David. Your collection of 1960s discotheque LP covers David had displayed, balanced on the picture-hanging rail.
It wasn't only about you and your absence, David told himself. Dave and I have an autonomous relationship, even now. Dave actually enjoys spending time with someone who's not a kid. He's always had that with me. He doesn't see me as merely a charity case, crutch, or souvenir. David remembered how, when dinner conversation would be full of David's and Dave's anxieties over jobs or school, weighing possibilities, pro and con, you'd be right there with them, analyzing options and suggesting new lines of thought. Only when David was alone with you later would you casually drop some bomb, such as a promotion at work or acceptance to grad school. You would mention it as casually as folding laundry. Your calculated cool obscured how ambitious David knew you really were, but your ambition merely didn't seem to require the outside consultations and validations of David and Dave's debates. When you'd told Dave, "Maybe journalism school would be a good idea after the Army," your voice was so bereft of competitiveness or condescension one would never had guessed you had been a journalism major yourself. When Dave changed schools for the fourth time, David had tried to hammer some sort of consistency of interest out of him, tried to draw connections between the schools. You had merely asked Dave what he liked about the current school, what was working for him now? Dave's present happiness seemed to satisfy you, not the propriety of his actions. David knew your concerns and saw you hide them from Dave. Only after you had left did David begin to wonder what you had also hidden from him.
"You wanna try?" Dave asked.
David nodded, "Sure, I'll give it a go. "
The two men sat on the grass, at the base of a six-foot angular cement arch, one in a row of six. Constructed more recently and unconnected to the gas works, the arches stood painfully incongruous and without apparent function, like abandoned pieces of a cathedral-building kit. Too bland for public art in a region that preferred the sculptural whimsy of giant metal flowers, yet too tall and rough for playground equipment, they nevertheless functioned as both. A teenage boy grappled his way up the angled leg of one. Once on top, he leapt from one arch to another.
David stole a peek at the boy sailing over them.
"Jailbait," Dave said, clicking his lighter.
Dave inhaled and held up his cigarette package, Dave's Lights. "How can I resist a product named after me?" he asked.
"At least you smoke. Why isn't there something I really enjoy named after me, like David's Single-Malt Scotch? I want a namesake product," David grumbled.
Dave smiled and put the pack in his shorts' side cargo pocket. "What about that Ben and Jerry's stuff you dig so much, that freaky mango-lime shit that doesn't get your mouth all gummy like ice cream or yogurt?"
"I do like sorbet. " He smoothed the air before him with his palms. "David's Sorbet," he announced.
Dave exhaled. "Sounds kinda faggy. "
"Yeah, I suppose so. It's French. Maybe if I was named Jacques. Too bad, it's delicious. But it could sound rather pretentious to ask for some 'sorbet'. "
Dave nodded. "Yeah. You need a better word, something not in another language. It's so snotty to speak another language. "
David screwed his lips up. " 'Icefruit' ," he tested.
Dave shook his head. "Obvious. "
" 'Brrreeza' " he suggested, trilling his r's.
Dave shook his head. "That's way faggy. "
" 'Jhuise' " he offered.
Dave shook his head. "Bhitaktg!"
They faced each other. They stared at the park.
"C'klhaue Hu sdabou h'fod?" David said.
"Q nfaou, c'klhaue Hu sdabou h'fod?"
David opened his mouth, closed it. He looked from Dave to the park. "Did you understand what I just said?" he growled.
"Phsgtr, Hul gnyuais q trebdou," Dave sighed.
"Huais! Jiiouwf asdfujh, q Hu gfid hnoht c'oskf letk," David barked at him. "Tnuexr. Ifd qi Hol nys't h'is!"
Dave's face darkened. His lips struggled to form the right words. He lowered his eyes. "You're not speaking English," he muttered. "How come I understand you?"
"Gfid asohuihe!" David said. "Ho q Hu-" He shook his head, closed his eyes. "Neither are you, but I get it. " He pushed himself up off the concrete arch. He stood up, eyes darting around the park. He paced around an arch, glared at Dave. He turned away and took off down the sidewalk, looking down at his feet. When he reached the fenced-off section he stepped back onto the grass to circumvent the quarantine. He slapped the chain-link as he passed.
Dave looked around the park and felt very alone.
A pontooned seaplane coasted down across the lake for a landing: an ominous image, one which signalled a dramatic arrival or departure in countless films. In the fierce sunshine, Seattle's skyline appeared hazy and distant across the lake from the gas works, cool glass towers an opposite world away. Pilots and bike-riders navigated sky and earth with their machines, which worked, which served useful transportation functions. The gas works looked on, resentful. If entertainment could be deemed a function, they were still functional, but it was not the function they had been intended for. It was a stopgap, a substitute, a transformation. Nothing was inherently shameful or disrespectful in that, but when questions of intention are raised, pride does become pricked. Was the transformation willing, or merely a clumsy necessity, the best that could be managed given the circumstances. Were the gas works a gorgeous butterfly? A noble phoenix? Or an older sibling's Sunday School slacks taken in and poorly passed off as school clothes?
The boy jumped down to the grass loudly beside Dave, startling him. Dave bolted up and took off along the sidewalk after David. Dave glanced back over his shoulder, glimpsing the boy's triumphant smile.
As Dave entered the parking lot, he could see David on the far side, sitting in the cab of his battered '68 Ford pickup. Dave could hear his AM radio: some wartime crooner on the "music of your life" station. David sat motionless in the cab with the engine rumbling, and stared out the windshield. He threw open the door as Dave approached. Dave clambered in, careful to avoid scraping his bare shins against the rusty metal of the pickup's side. He slammed the door shut, smelling decades of dust and oil in the floorboards and leather. He looked at David. David glared: Don't say a word.
They drove home without speaking. In the your absence, Dave and David had grown accustomed to denying the obvious.
They nodded good-bye as David idled outside Dave's apartment. Dave didn't invite David in, or to go get a beer, even though it was only early evening. David watched Dave hike up the steps into the hillside horseshoe of apartments.
Dave's apartment complex resembled 1940s Hollywood writer bungalows, quaint stucco individual dwellings with vine-trellised sidewalks. The studios had willingly paid for these tiny security nests in order to keep the alcoholic writers happy and stable, churning out stories.
For the next three days, Dave kept himself inside. The internet reassured him in its steadfast English, until he accidentally popped into a search engine a word only he and David knew. He experimented with typing in the other tongue, finding it at least had no nonstandard characters. He sent discussion groups random postings, hoping for recognition of the tongue. Only angry chastisements returned. He sent David emails in both languages, with no response. Between connections he would screen calls on his answering machine, hoping to hear David's voice. Warily he looked at the calendar toward the start of school in two weeks. When he went to the grocery store or a bar, he spoke as little as possible, and flinched whenever someone asked him to repeat what he'd said. At night, Dave dreamed of you, talking with you in the new language.
David picked up the phone carefully, "Hello?"
"C'lhod!" David barked, "Q basdi ghiu c'ynauith, Ho jhuiset, clethious, gretully, q asohuihe klet!"
"Q- q- Hu gretully fhaelstock ghiu c'yunt. Elt vrhioultes fed vrhialtes sekken Ho lykklio. J'nre Hauio-"
"Jo, jhig c'lhious basdi ghiu-"
David jerked the phone away from his ear.
David hesitated at English. He returned the receiver to his ear, gingerly.
"I'll try to stick to English, but it's fucking hard. This damn other language's running all in my head and you're the only one who gets it. "
"I realize that. "
"Did we get some kind of disease or something? It feels normal, just like English, you know? I keep speaking it to other people by accident. I can't remember which is which, they sound all the same-"
"Calm down, damn it," David hissed. "Just try to ignore it. "
"What the fuck is happening?"
"I don't know. It's obviously something between us; maybe we're bringing it out in each other. "
"But what the fuck is it?"
"Look, I think we've got to just steer clear of each other a while and see if it lets up. "
"Dude, I don't think-"
"Just don't think about it, OK? Don't think about it and don't call me. "
He set the receiver down. He went in the bathroom and gargled with warm water and sea salt. He ignored the phone's ringing. Returning to his couch, he increased the TV volume, staring hard at subtitles on PBS. He tried to lose himself in a drama of suicidal Japanese warriors, but felt irritable and distracted. Not merely over Dave, and their unwanted new language, but also you. He felt you heavy in the room, your mood in his own. David didn't want to think about you.
The phone rang and he checked the Caller I. D. box. It was the building's front entry. Could be Dave. David stepped away from the phone and grabbed his keys. He stormed out of his apartment and up to the roof.
Dave slammed down the building's phone and sat down on the front steps, fuming as he lit up a smoke. He glared across the street at a car. "Kijhiou," he said. His gaze darted about the intersection. He blew smoke disdainfully from between his lips as he named each object: Stoplight - "Huloai. " Tree - "Nudaklyrgno. " Store - "Qoihg. " He tapped the cement steps at his feet, "F'kuiets. " He traced his pinky-finger along the cool brass of the arm rail, "Jhufi c'haju. " He saw his twisted reflection in the tarnishing brass of the arm rail, "Lek. " He put his finger between his lips and sucked it, searching for taste.
On the roof above, David surveyed the city.
From the interstate highway below David's building, it appeared Seattle to the west was solely bold modernism: the retro-utopic Space Needle, the glass skyscrapers of downtown, the cubic R. E. I. Outdoor Supplies storefront. The east, however, held an unbroken row of outdated apartment buildings crowded shoulder-to-shoulder on the hilltop above the expressway. Their unified front of prefab wrought-iron railings and shared balconies attested to the city's eastward expansion during the late 1960s boom. What was once evidence of prosperity had lingered to become an eyesore because people were willing to withstand inferior domiciles for a superior view. Anything for a view; that's why the freeway buildings had never been razed and updated. Not till the next massive boom. Hidden behind these ugly '60s complexes, venerable brick buildings from the '20s, such as the one on whose roof David now stood, suffered quietly through the decades as their views became blocked by the freeway complexes, then trees, then parking garages, and now a slow but steady infiltration of condominiums infesting Capitol Hill.
Seattle filled the landscape of Puget Sound like a liquid, like the sludge at Gas Works Park, something whose shape and form was dictated by laws of nature rather than urban planning. Pools of lights and buildings filled the low places between hills, sometimes overflowing into neighboring valleys, trickling off in tiny streams. The city's organic density was spotty and random, squeezed by the Sound, split by Lakes Union and Washington. A university crowded a waterfront here, a wooded affluent neighborhood dusted a hillside there.
David could scan 360 degrees of neighborhoods: Queen Anne, Madrona, U-District, Capitol Hill, First Hill, Denny Regrade, Belltown, Seattle Center, Downtown. Boat lights buoyed out in the waters of Lake Union; flashbulbs popped from the crown of the Needle. He wished he had one of Dave's namesake cigarettes and enjoyed smoking. David turned from downtown and back to his own Capitol Hill. He laughed to himself over his neighborhood's pretentious title. Better to share names with a banal product than be named after something that doesn't exist.
In the first half of 20th century, Seattle had tried to flex its urban muscle and relocate the Washington State capital from Olympia to Seattle, naming Capitol Hill in anticipation of placing the capitol building there. Present-day businesses such as "Capitol News" and "Capitol Cleaners" unmistakably reinforced the memory of this failed namesake attempt. If only they'd chosen "Capital Hill"! If the attempt had succeeded, it still would have been applicable: "Capital Hill" is a hill in the capital city where the capitol is located. If the attempt had failed, as it indeed did, "Capital Hill" would have at least maintained a degree of vagary and not reminded citizens so indignantly of their political loss. If you didn't know the history, you could presume "Capital Hill" had been so named in an adjectival sense: "Because it's a capital place to live! 'Smashing Hill,' 'Premier Hill' or 'Cat's Pyjamas Hill' just didn't quite have the same ring!" However, the decision had been made for Capitol Hill, and no effort was made, as the years went by, to change the spelling. Perhaps because not enough people understood the difference between the two words, the implications of the two names. It wasn't as obvious a gaffe as one of Chicago's running jokes: "Oh, Lincoln Park is the park with the statue of Grant; Grant Park is the park with the statue of Lincoln. "
Names that have outlived their intent, David thought. At least Capitol Hill still existed as a neighborhood, if not a hill with a capitol on it. David thought of a word whose referent no longer existed. David whispered it under his breath, the syllabic combinations of your name, supposedly identifiers of a wholly unique individual, now gone. Like a memorized combination for a lost padlock, they no longer served a function. They lingered like a preferences file in a computer's system folder long after the outdated software had been trashed. Detritus and artifacts, another entry neither erased nor crossed out from his address book. A new address book never bought.
Your name floated up from the noise of the intersection below, twisted and drawn out to the melody of the 1960s pop song your parents had named you after. Brothers and lovers and friends, even David and Dave, had sung it to you on birthdays. Someone sang it below:
Jhuqhoiuh, jhi bhoiuh.
The simple rhymes and cloying melody of the pop song twisted up from the street in Dave's wiry tenor. Dave sang on the street corner below, not a smooth serenade, but angrily, wringing as much force as he could muster from his voice. Cars honked, a few people came to their windows, but stranger things had happened on that Seattle street corner.
David appeared from around the building. The two men stared at each other.
"Uoik q Ho jhoks quu vuhn klahs bhun c'naisshjhboih," David sang, his voice rough and unsteady.
Dave joined him. "Klahs buhn c'naisshjhboih!" they sang. They laughed.
"Ho q Hu uir, c'hiastlok. Sraklhaios jik q feztri, jik q lykklio," David said, grinning apologetically. "Ho c'ythais kloihais lo elt Hais, fed jhakkio fieownf. Afen kle eso q vhiaome, aniod't. C'jhiwonre mi kliosaf. "
Dave nodded, sweating. "Afen, jhflkedtriots q hiouastre, fed Ho c'ythu flsirt ghi kliosaf fliouastre. Q c'ythu elt ramellao kwid likkio. "
The owner of the neighboring market stepped outside. "Damn David, you got a barbershop quartet starting up out here?"
Dave opened his mouth to reply but David grabbed his arm.
"Not in front of anyone else," he whispered. Dave nodded.
"Good evening, Mr. DeWinter," David called out. "Dave's just had a few too many vodkas with his Russian class. "
Dave waved feebly at proprietor. "Das Vadanya," he called out. David put his hand on his shoulder.
At night the halogen lamps in Gas Works Park illuminated the structures in sharp chiaroscuro, carving out forms and shadows in bold, unambiguous lines. The park's peninsula viewpoint jutting into Lake Union became a richly lit stage. Politely blinking in anticipation, Seattle spread out in a semicircle before the park: the beaming faces of an expectant audience. The industrial setpieces looming around them, Dave and David ran down the hill, swarming to the front and center of the park like chorus members rushing onstage for the big finale musical number. They caught their breath upon reaching the waterfront.
"Here we are, back where it began. "
"I want to sing again," Dave whispered, "but I can't. "
"I know," David said. "It's like whispering in a graveyard even when there's no one around. Or in an empty auditorium. "
"Yeah - I feel like I'm on stage, in a play, a big musical. Only it's so quiet. "
You did not reappear to complete a happy ending. The feather-breaths of traffic along the expressway, the clucking and lapping of the water, the rustling of leaves were no chorus, no orchestra, but a vast white noise that emphasized the silence, like the whooshing of blood in one's head, air in one's ears, and heartbeat in one's chest whose audibility screamed the authority of absence.
The two men sat on burnt summer grass, leaning against a chain-link fence.
"Remember when we all three came here for that movie?" David asked.
"Metropolis? When they had the live orchestra playing the soundtrack?"
"Yeah. I'd never even seen it before. "
David smiled. "It was odd to hear it with music. I'd only ever seen the silent version. "
"That was great when the mob was all screaming, 'Destroy the machines!' "
"Yeah, that was hilarious. 'Between the head and the hand the heart must mediate. ' Remember how everyone in the audience started hollering and throwing all those Sidewalk. com cushions that Microsoft had given out?"
Dave bobbed his head. "You two had been saying it was so funny that Microsoft was sponsoring that movie, and at Gas Works Park, but I didn't get it 'till then. It was pretty cool. "
"You two got so drunk that night. "
"We all did. "
"I still have my cushion in the back of my truck. "
They fell silent. The need for a profundity, a morale, or the title of the drama to be spoken aloud hung heavy in the air. David realized that all this while he didn't know which language they'd been speaking. He tried to test some phrases in his head. He felt certain they were the correct words to represent his ideas, but he had no idea to which language they belonged. They seemed native and pure, but the new tongue had felt innate from its first entrance into their minds. Had the two languages become indistinguishable, with no one else around them to clarify which was English? Or had one taken over the other so completely its memory had been obliterated?
He glanced out of the corner of his eye at Dave, who stared across the lake at downtown Seattle. His eyes were glazed and his lips parted and moved gently, as if he was silently testing words and phrases under his breath as well. The men said nothing aloud. The city did not applaud.