A long, all-knowing silence set in after we’d broken through the dense commuting traffic coming from the city. We were on our way in from the airport, and gradually began our descent down a long stretch of highway that opened up to a gurgling hillside dotted with the roofs of homes and tall evergreens.
Ivan Santori, a cousin on my mother’s side, turned the radio down and tilted his head to look me in the eyes.
“So, what are you doing?”
“Funny,” I said, smiling. “I was just wondering the same thing. I have no fucking idea.”
Quite frankly, I hadn’t even begun to process the notion of once again pushing off from the edge of the pool and finding solitude in the sensation of floating into the deepest of waters. Utter abeyance led to absolute freedom, and even though I had no evidence or outline to reassure him that I had rationalized what had just happened, there was a strange feeling of confidence in this newly-calculated risk I had taken by moving across the country without so much as a plan. Nearly everything about my old life had, furthermore, become dismantled by outside forces, leaving me to question one’s ability to control their own environment. This was about regaining some level of control, even if it meant surrendering it first. With that, he gave me a puzzled grin before reaching for the dial, and filling the vehicle with loud, senseless music.
As Ivan and I ate cheeseburgers and drank pints on the trellised rooftop garden of his favorite locale in town, I began to ease into the elements of my new home. My eyes took immediately to the rambling, opaque clouds that split just right over the jagged ridges of the nearest mountain range, the sun ensconcing them in a ghostly glow. It was just as Ivan had described: light cut through the clouds like small knives, and it appeared for a few fleeting moments as if the heavens were opening up to mark a kingdom for which man was only to yearn. Its vividness was displacing, especially considering the short increment of time that separated me from The Plains. I still felt on my skin the residue of water from the springs there, and a lone shudder rippled through my body as I looked out to the surrounding scape.
It was over the second round of beers that Ivan informed me that the promised spare walk-in closet where I would be living was actually a damp, desolate dwelling where he and his housemates did their laundry. It would be quite different from the Southern-Victorian mansion that I had, just weeks prior, inhabited back on The Plains. Here, however, I was to be provided with a mattress with no box-spring in the space next to the washer and dryer, a long, narrow plumbing pipe to hang a few articles of clothing, and a small end-table to store my books and lay my glasses at night. But a mattress was a mattress, and even if I had no clothes to hang other than the ones I was wearing, I was merely grateful to have the option.
“At this point, I’ll take anything,” I assured him. “It’s just nice to be out of the fire.”
Ivan smirked at me from across the table before taking a drink from his beer. “I had a feeling you might say something like that.”
The windowless laundry room came to be like a vortex, effectively usurping the concept of time with its absence of sunlight and rendering me instead reliant on the biological clock that one naturally adhered to for rising and resting. As such, there came to be many dawns in which I set out before the sun had eclipsed the crisp, black outlines where the flatirons met flat ground. In these mornings, I would arm myself with one of Ivan’s blades, recalling the tales about after-dark encounters with mountain lions and stray cubs who roamed the backstreets of his secluded hood. The neighborhood rose and fell like the track of a roller coaster, suddenly giving way to unsuspecting turns and covered trails, at times even hitting a lookout with a full panoramic view of the small town in which he lived.
Upon these walks the moon acted as my guiding light, igniting small pockets of the silent streets in a tepid glow. This was Steinbeck’s hour of the pearl, and it was here that I pondered the chain of events—the myriad plucking of strings and the massive unraveling of circumstances—which brought me to the feet of this very frontier. In those same hours, I also found a great degree of respite and solitude, for each destination-less walk would temporarily vanquish the gnawing demand for respectable work and a stable income. Moreover, it was here that I came to understand the sanctity that one inherently seeks in the isolated confines of Mother Nature, watching in recluse as the world rolled on under varying light. Secluding and self-serving, this ritual seemed a swift way to wash away with time and be at last a single, ubiquitous grain of sand that could be found on the seashores of any of the inhabitable continents.
In this odd position of being in-between, I was set free, sent adrift in a pool of undetermined depth, suspended by my own weight and cut from the umbilical cord of every crux known to man. Food began to taste a little richer, the sun’s rays shone a little brighter, and my stance became a little more staunch. In every sense, I was without a home, but no longer seeking such virtue, which, in effect, rendered the term obsolete and inopportune.
Living in such a space, moreover, optimized what abeyance was all about. Perhaps more than anything, abeyance is balance. It is the space in between two extremes. It is the buffer of gray that makes black definitively black and white definitively white. It is, fundamentally, what we find when we forgive ourselves for not desiring to be either good or evil. For these reasons, abeyance seemed the only rationale for one to follow in a world bothered by concrete and abstractions. As such, I relished my opportunity to be afloat, drifting without a destination, while exploring the intricacies of the outside world as life continued.
The days went on, but with every unreturned phone call from a prospective employer, I began to grow worried over the thought of ever finding respectable work again. Accordingly, my diet was fixed to eggs and, if salvageable, some fresh greens. Whereas Fante had his oranges, I had my eggs, and that was enough. Gradually, however, the routine of walking alone under the rising sun was overtaken by the habit of meandering while the rest of the vacationers and baggy drifters wandered down the opulent, immaculately-paved boulevards of brick, which split the small mountain town like the Grand Canal.
One afternoon, while walking behind a large group, I was corralled by a man in a court jester outfit as he set up along the sidewalk with a basket of props and colorful hats. He was about to start his performance, but he stopped suddenly to address a group of small children who stood before him, giggling with wide eyes and open mouths.
“Now, kids, I can juggle these special pins because I practice. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year . . .” his words quieted as he began to work into his set, and I walked quickly down the crowded street, not slowing down or stopping until I reached Ivan’s apartment. Dwelling in that dark, decrepit room, I spent the evening alone, feverishly writing out a story that would be titled, The Great Fire.