Down the Hallway

Flash
Mike Dillon


Photo Credit: Miss Lazy/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

In America, it’s a dolorous sax down a dingy hotel corridor blown by an indigo soul.

Here, in northern Italy, it’s a soprano’s sweet voice trying to follow the slow, minor-key notes of a piano.

You lie on your sleeping bag on top of a dirty bed in an old hotel. You’re in the middle of your backpacking year through Europe after working a night janitor’s job at a posh athletic club in Seattle.

You lived like a monk and saved $6,000—a lot of money in 1975. Europe was cheap then.

And so you lie there watching the white scarves of your breath in a room without heat while the distant snow mountains out the window vanish in the deepening dusk.

She sounds young—talented but unfledged. Sometimes she falters as she negotiates the haunting pathways of a Schubert lieder:

Still ist die Nacht, es ruhen die Gassen,
In diesem Hause wohnte mein Schatz.

“The night is quiet, the streets are at rest,
In this house lived my darling.”

The words belong to Heine. Your high school and college German has served you well on your journey.

Her voice shines with promise. Maybe she’s around your age, twenty-four. Sometimes, just like you in your own life, her timing can be awkward. Sometimes, when she falters, the piano breaks off like the snap of a stick in a frozen forest.

Then the chase resumes, her sweet voice clear as creek water.

You close your eyes and listen. You can almost see yourself as clearly as if your body has risen and you look down from the ceiling. That tall young man stretched out on the bed, unshaven, a little pale, listening with eyes shut, is you. These slow, cold moments feel like a remembrance out of some old novel.

She retraces familiar ground: Still ist die Nacht…

Far from home, you wonder what story you’re in.

pencil

Mike Dillon, a retired community newspaper publisher, lives on Puget Sound northwest of Seattle. A previous contributor to Toasted Cheese, he is the author of four books of poetry and three books of haiku. His most recent book, Departures, a book of poetry and prose about the forced removal of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor was published by Unsolicited Press in April 2019. Email: miked7003[at]gmail.com

Self Possession

Flash
Mike Dillon


Photo Credit: Vlad Podvorny/Flickr (CC-by)

I saw the rare bird of self-possession once. I saw it from where I stood in a banquet room bristling with billboard nametags and dentured smiles. Never mind my reason for being in that room: my reason was thin. What matters is I looked over the shoulder of the one talking at me to see her standing alone in a corner.

I watched her quietly watching that atonal crowd with the amused Mona Lisa smile of someone remembering a beloved childhood landscape. I suppose, at first, I took stock of her in the way careless people, at police headquarters, would describe someone gone missing: Tall. Early thirties. Green eyes, probably. Soft, green eyes. Dark hair, pony-tailed. Kind of pretty.

But then my real self would kick in, for her and for me: a book reader, I’d say. Or, a nineteenth-century romantic heroine. At which point I would be dismissed, no doubt, and told to take my irrelevancy elsewhere, but not before I declared she was the calm salient in a white-capped sea of inanity where everyone smiled in order not to drown. By this time a strong hand would have clamped my elbow directing me out the door but not before I would shout: one last thing!

Here’s how to pick her out in any crowd. I only need one minute to tell a little story about myself in the suburbs a year or so ago. Never mind my reason for being there: it was thin. What matters is I slipped into a scrap of woods where surveyor’s pink ribbons fluttered from the branches. I followed an overgrown path until it ended. I saw a place of sunlit moss beyond the brambles. I pushed my way in. I kneeled to three white trillium and muddy deer tracks. I felt a cool updraft from the earth and saw a black hole nearly covered by vines and rotted wood—an abandoned well exhaling earth’s cool breath.

As a robin caroled its sweet liquid carol overhead I found a white pebble and dropped it into the dark. And heard a splash sweet as the spot where ball meets bat for a stand-up triple—except I imagined a lovely trout down there as trout once thrived in the holy wells of Ireland.

That’s what I would tell the police, if she were missing, if they wanted to find her in a crowd. So much depends that they get my meaning: Think of the condemned woods, I’d say, and the well, the trout, and you will know her. All else is mere description.

I, for one, won’t forget her. She who never looked over to me or knows that I exist. Which is also to her credit.

pencil

Mike Dillon lives in Indianola, Washington, a small town on Puget Sound northwest of Seattle. He is the author of four books of poetry and three books of haiku. Several of his haiku were included in Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, from W.W. Norton (2013). Departures, a book of poetry and prose about the forced removal of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor will be published by Unsolicited Press in April 2019. Email: miked7003[at]gmail.com