We're Just Talking
By David Luoma
Last month it was a couple down in Tulsa and afterwards we hit the road faster than fire at a mattress factory. That was me and Sal then and it’s me and Sal still. Now don’t get nervous. We’re just talking and this is our introduction. Sal here does not like jittery types and has been known to go off-kilter. Sal, why not say hello. Don’t be rude. Folks like these folks here, Sal, have a basic right constitutionally to know who it is that’s in their living room, basically visiting uninvited. Sal doesn’t say much as you can tell, but who it is that keeps him in line and on-kilter is me and me alone. Deep down he knows a rock from a hole in the head and that’s more than I can say for some.
Nice picture of you two on the mantle, though red is not a favorite color of mine and so much of it makes me think slaughterhouse. It does, as you say, warm the room. What do you think, Sal, the picture has an effect on the room? Not a man of many words, like I said. Pictures do prove things. No, we’re not leaving. No, you’re not either. Good questions, though. Fair enough, given our predicament.
Tonight’s word is maintain. Maintain is a good-fitting word, Sal, you think, and a bit parallel to our present predicament, don’t you also think? Sal, like a said, knows a rock from a hole in the head because he’s seen one, a hole, that is, and that’s the major reason I have to keep speaking to him because he’s one to go off half-cocked with a blatant disregard for aftermaths, so just smile and don’t meet him eye-to-eye. We’ll all be fine if we maintain. Sal, how about you go have a look around for contraband? Sal knows things without us saying it. No, I’m not kidding. Do I look like I’m kidding? And Sal, don’t take all night getting it done. These folks are a nervous bundle.
Sal’s not into the finer part of words, not like you both appear to be. What, no contraband you say? Well that’s unfortunate, Sir, but let’s let Sal be simultaneous judge and jury. Now, now, now, don’t start crying, Lady, because Sal’ll be right back, as he’s nothing if he’s not punctual and thorough and a great hoot to have around, once you get to know him, that is. He’s not interested in your sweet nothings, as he knows what’s important and what’s for mere show. Just you two sit down on that couch with the ridiculous flower pattern. Yes, holding hands is a nice touch, I’m impressed to say. So I’m guessing forty years you’ve been married, that it? Sir, can you calm her because all this whimpering gets Sal nervous and, yes, I know he’s in your bedroom crawling under your bed, in your closet and in your drawers, but suppose he walks in and hears all this? Let’s not lose a cause even before we start, I like to say.
Forty years, I knew it. I got a sense for these things, boy don’t I. Funny how all this is knowable but then your faces tell the story more and better than a lie detector test. So, Lady, I’m guessing you’ve got a dark secret. An affair. Am I right? Not saying? The lack of commentary, you should already know, is itself commentary. I’ll figure it out. Like I said, I’ve got a sense for these things. Okay, Sir, you know all about it and I’m betting you’re not letting on about this secret knowledge because such knowing without action is power in your mind, and you’d just as soon retain this power as long as feasible. Now don’t deny it.
Anyway, those events in Tulsa are hard to put into words, there being details that peek out and wrinkle themselves free with every telling. Like I said, Tulsa was a month in the past. Funny how time moves like a hurricane but gets measured by calendars. Your predecessor couple never seemed to understand such a basic concept. Am I making sense? Not talking. Very well, then, silence is as good as an admission in my book.
What do you suppose is keeping our man Sal? Might he also be into something delicate, you think? Sir, a nice touch with that squeezing her hand thing and not letting go. You’re playing the protector. No doubt, if on trial, you’d parade your relative innocence at her expense. Which is well and good but forty years, we have to keep that in mind. Yes, go ahead and stroke her hair, a brilliant touch.
Now there’s nothing adverse that Sal will come up with is there? A little pink Smith and Wesson tucked under the pillow? Because Sal will find it, as he knows all the hiding places. This one I have here’s a Beretta. Ever see what one’ll do? Now don’t deny it. Part of the art is knowing when to bluff and when to lay it all out on the table, which is a reference to card games. No, you’re adverse to such knowledge. Sal figures all adversity is a fabrication. I, on the other hand, believe it’s a good foundation upon which we may perform our artistic work. Art for art’s sake is my motto, a well-known cinematic saying.
Yes, Sal’s making a lot of noise back there. We’re not rude like you think, we aren’t. You abhor violence. Now that’s too bad in an ironic sense because you seem educated but your way of looking at things that stare the rest of us in the face is a true gem in our present predicament. What I was going to say was that in the movies it’s all predictable, a complete lack of style and artistry. As a contrast, I’m an artist not a devil. Ditto our friend Sal.
Sal and me have been together for a long time, Sal being the most interesting person of this production and so some history might ease your nerves. Sal was the beloved son of rich folks in Des Moines, destined for Princeton on a silver platter, or was it Harvard. I can never remember but you get my point. Turns out Sal ended up in prison on felony charges because he tried to rob a liquor store with nothing but an empty shoebox. Now that’s talent that deserves applause. I’ve been trying for years to pry out of him what his speaking part was to make a shoebox convincing but Sal’s mute on the subject. Not one for words, like I said. And too much questioning about method makes him jittery. Trust me, we don’t want a jittery Sal in here.
That’s your phone ringing but don’t answer, as you’re obviously not available you will remember. Someone expecting you to be home is one thing but acknowledging it to them is a horse of a different color. Well, that’s nice, you have an answering machine. You’re not here. What a good thing to say. Leave a message and we’ll get back to you. That’s a bit presumptuous but who knew what tonight would bring. Might I ask who’s Teresa? Your sister. No, Lady, you can’t call her back. Do I look like I’m kidding?
Revelation can go a long way in establishing a successful triangle, which is what we’re doing, establishing a triangle, our fancy-pants word meaning verbal agreement split three ways. We’re just talking. And there has to be art in it. This whole project makes me giddy. To think that randomness, an appropriate word, played the role of director, it boggles the mind because now we’re all here together. You can appreciate the art, I hope. You act confused. I hate it when I can’t make my point properly. It’s my weakness and I’m sorry, I really am.
Now I’m guessing that sound of breaking glass coming from where Sal is at is a mirror and I do apologize for that sad occurrence, and I make this promise to you both, you have my word on it, that I will talk to Sal and get right to the bottom of this when he gets out of your bedroom. We have reputations to keep intact. Say, you don’t suppose our friend back there found something incredible, do you? A crystal lamp that’s been in the family for generations, now that is sad. I hate messing with history, history being a divine organizer. Lady, you do talk fast. I’m betting you’re in show business because I got a sense. A teacher, now that’s a surprise.
So you must know that in the Civil War folks were short on art and those on the blue side lined up fifty yards from the ones on the gray side and both sides fired simultaneously, and you can imagine the rest of that tale with no anesthesia to boot. We’re so much more civilized and refined, it’s a hoot, civilized refinement being the devil’s candy box, which I comprehend as meaning the prince of lies himself works under a layer of chocolates and nuts. You like that? I just invented it. Okay, you both need to lighten up, you being at least partially responsible.
Sir, please, sit down.
My calm apologies for the voice raising. Please don’t cry again, Lady. You have such a pretty face. What stories your faces are. Sir, I guessing you regret not knowing Sal and me were on our way, not controlling the randomness, a mistake on your behalf that is blatant without saying. Lady, you really want your lamp back and for that I can’t blame you but your persistence and your lip biting makes me contemplate an idea. What would you do if I let you off that couch, let you handle this Beretta and take your best shot? You seem more eager to pull the trigger than your husband who won’t let go of your hand. In a phrase, our imaginations dominate us don’t they, and yours dominates your face, Lady. Say, let’s play a game and talk future tense for a moment. Ooh, I don’t know about you but playing games gets me excited.
Okay, use your imaginations. You, Lady, creep toward me slowly, feet pressing the carpet in tiptoe fashion, keeping yourself outside of my peripheral vision like you’ve seen on television a hundred times, you telling yourself to be calm as if you were hardly there. Behind me now you reach for a heavy object, say a steel pipe with threaded ends, which you bring down on me and the effect is devastating for me and justified for you. How many times will you bring it down? Enough to get the energy out, I would say. Am I half wrong? I don’t believe you.
Discussing future events tells us about the here and the now. So, assuming Sal discovers that steel pipe your face is telling me about, or something like it, we can rectify the matter front and center. In the movies it’s a foregone conclusion that all will work out well in the end for the good people and I’m speculating that’s what your hoping for. Right, Sir, and I don’t fault you for that, since it is natural, just as you say, and pertinent and does give you something to hang your hats on.
Sir, I said sit!
Now you’ve done it, you’re to blame. Yes, Lady, pat his shoulder and calm him down. I do apologize that I can’t have you traipsing around. What, no steel pipe? Truth is, I knew that. I’m just baiting you. We figured you weren’t prepared for us.
In the end, hope is false aggression. Now that’s a thought. Wait until I inform Sal, who happens to enjoy a paradoxical quip every now and then. So here, Sir, is your hope, trapped in a nutshell. The police arrive just as you are ready to give up. It’s a common television device. Maybe it’s an expectation on your part. And you agree, Lady, do you? I thought so. I have a sense, like I said. Hope is the devil’s opium, and I’ll allow you all the hope you can muster because I’m feeling creative here.
Sal, like I said, is not talkative but denies in private the value of preliminaries being properly carried out. Do you see the value, Lady? Well I do, preparation being the name of the game in my book. Look, Lady, have tears gotten you anywhere in the past in predicaments even partially similar? So why not maintain. There isn’t much time and time is the glue holding us and this night together. I’m sorry, Sir, but I’m thinking she’s missing the point, and if you’re siding with her you’re missing it too. Sir, you look like a banker. No, a government employee. I missed the occupation clues, boy did I. But who can be perfect in this world, I ask you?
Do I enjoy this?
That my friends is a good question. I like that you’re showing an interest. Don’t you think your husband’s question is good? Don’t say so if you don’t believe it, Lady. I enjoy the art, yes, the art of making it happen, how just talking pales the Lady’s face and makes yours, Sir, an angry red. And you remember my point about the color red? That picture on the mantle, where was it taken? Niagara, I’m betting, because of all the water spraying about. You were there three days. Like I said, I got a sense for these things, don’t I. All that noise Sal’s making is kind of eerie, you must think. Don’t answer. I can see it.
We were set to do this old guy in Kennesaw awhile back, me and Sal, and the old guy came barreling out the front screen door just as we were walking up, shotgun blasting from his hip, screen door flying off its hinges. And he chased us, yelling for us to get off and leave what’s his alone, the shotgun blasting oak tree bark off in chunks by our heads. That night Sal twisted an ankle with all that running. If you look hard enough you can detect a limp to this day, only don’t you dare comment on the fact.
Say, I’m guessing you’re into zombie movies. Sal’s limp makes me think zombie. No? Don’t tell me you’re into romantics where the falsely attractive couple ends up together at the end of every single movie, happy forever after. No, I asked you not to tell me. Seeing the two of you huddled together now that’s the very picture of hope. See, Sal back there he doesn’t acknowledge things like plotting because he’s all business. Get in, get out, run, run, run. What went wrong in Kennesaw was we came face to face with another fellow of artistic merit, which is why I’m out here with you, trying to have a calming effect. That guy, well, he just flat out went berserk and the rest is documented history of which our likenesses are also documented.
That friendly toot on the car horn outside makes your eyes widen, as if you sense an opening where a little light might be shining through. Yes, the horn unanswered will cause the horn blower to investigate. Ooh, this is a conundrum. You’re home but something’s wrong. Now, I’m betting our horn blower will play it safe. Why knock on the front door. Just call the police and let them do their job. You promise not to tell anybody what I look like, Sir, and you, Lady, agree. What a sweet artistic attempt, a cinematic moment. Of course there’s an alternate ending here, one I’m a bit practiced in reciting, this being a favorite part of mine. You see, it could be Sal signaling that he’s ended his investigation and he’s letting me know by predetermined signal of that very fact and that it’s time to go, our work being just about finished. Excuse me for standing but the suspense is exhilarating. No, stay where you are, please. What must be done must be done without mistakes.
Crying does create an effect both of sound and sense.
Like I said, we’re stuck in this triangle. I’m hoping it’s Sal outside, you that he’s not. I’m hoping to walk out of here, and you long for the knock on the door, the cops, in which case you walk out. And who’s to say there isn’t enough art for all of us locked up in this small amount of time. I have a sense for these things, boy do I. And the waiting is the glorious part that for one terrible moment makes us equals.
Go ahead and scream. They all do.
My fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The McNeese Review, 45th Parallel, The Literary Review, decomP, Third Coast, and elsewhere. I teach at Johnson County Community College. And I’m also a bassist.