Within a wickedly short time Kiri had made herself a major part of my life. Our evening dates quickly attained daily status, and little by little I found my life undergoing major changes.
It started with the innocent suggestion that we jog around the block before dinner, something I weakly resisted with a lame excuse about being too old for that kind of thing, and of course it soon grew into regular running and, before long, weekend hiking. Much to my surprise, I discovered that instead of hosting myriad aches and sprains I was feeling better than I had in years and finding my head considerably clearer as well.
Before long I realized that she was a confirmed vegetarian, after noticing that our meals never included meat of any kind. "Is this a religious thing?" I asked curiously. She hadn't ever indicated that she held any kind of religious beliefs, and it somehow seemed slightly out of character for her.
"How do you know that animals aren't sentient beings?" she had asked.
I pondered the question. "How do you know that vegetables aren't?" I answered after a bit.
She shook her head sadly. "Vegetables don't have nervous systems," she said, giving me a pitying look.
"And sea slugs do," I shot back.
She sighed. "Okay, let's start over here. Would you eat a pet cat? One that reacts to you, apparently has a mind of its own, and obviously has dreams?" I shook my head. "So a cat could be conscious, and moving way down the line a sea slug probably never is. Where do you draw the line?"
"Ummmm," I said. I never was good at arguments that ended with my having to arbitrarily draw a line somewhere; I imagine I'd make a lousy health plan administrator.
"Well, I'd just as soon not," she concluded patiently. I had to admit, though, that avoiding meat was a lot less difficult when she was doing the cooking, for she seemed to have an endless supply of recipes for dishes I hadn't ever encountered before, almost all of them delicious (although I still draw the line at broccoli and its accomplices).
One thing we didn't do was go to the movies together. She had (a bit timidly, I thought) asked if it was something I wanted to do, and I shook my head. It had been ages since I'd seen a movie I liked. Nevertheless, just for the fun of it, we decided to look over the listings in the daily paper.
"How about this?" I suggested. "It features two drug addicts, one of whom gives the other a teenage runaway to show his friendship."
"Gives the other a runaway?" Kiri said, obviously puzzled.
"For sex," I explained.
"Next," Kiri said emphatically.
"All right," I continued, "here's one that features a sweet young woman. Sort of like you."
"And--?" She eyed me suspiciously.
"Well, she does keep the remains of her doorman in garbage bags," I clarified. "Is that a problem?" Deftly dodging the cushion she sent flying at my head, I grinned. "All right, how about these?" The remaining listings featured a sadistic high school football coach, various graphic murders, and of course a few rapes thrown in for good measure.
Did I mention the incest and pedophilia? Okay, then, I won't mention the incest and pedophilia. Needless to say, we didn't go to the movies that night (or later).
We didn't find television to be much of an alternative, either. After all, the most popular network "comedy" series at the time featured profoundly unpleasant people doing spiteful and insensitive things to each other. Although Kiri had access to a wide selection of cable channels as well, this seemed to consist for the most part of documentaries on murders, prostitution and child abuse; talk shows in which the participants routinely attempted to physically maim one another; and advertisements for psychic hotlines.
"I just sometimes have this feeling that I'm from some other planet and got left here by mistake," I finally burst out in exasperation, as we opted instead for another evening of dipping into Kiri's extensive anime collection. "I just don't understand the society I'm living in, or how people can enjoy the things they enjoy." I stopped unexpectedly, a bit taken aback to find Kiri staring at me with a startled expression on her face. "Did I say something wrong?" I said hesitantly.
She laughed, a bit nervously. "Just what you said. You're not going to get weird on me, are you? I mean, next thing I know you're going to tell me you were abducted by aliens as a teenager and used for breeding or something."
Feeling rather stupid, I shook my head. "It's just a way of trying to put my feelings into words. Flying saucers and Area 51 really aren't my thing. It's only a figure of speech. Really."
"Sorry," she apologized. "I didn't mean it to sound quite like that. You just took me by surprise, that's all."
"I used to love the movies," I mused, "especially the ones from the thirties and forties. I remember..."
"You remember...?" Kiri prompted, after waiting a decent interval.
"Well, I don't want to bore you with more personal stuff," I said. "It seems like I wind up telling you part of my life story every time we get together."
"It's okay," she insisted. "Your life's not nearly as dull as you make it out to be." Reluctantly I continued.
"Well, way back when I was little--I mean, the first year or two that I can remember--when I was sixteen or so--I had another aunt who used to come to visit. I don't know what her real name was, but I called her Aunt Mickey. She was an older woman, or at least the memory I have is of someone in their sixties or so, with grey hair. But she seemed to like me, even though I was just learning to talk all over again, and we used to sit for hours together watching old black and white movies from the thirties and forties. She'd give me a running commentary on what was going on, and I realize now it was a major factor in my learning to talk again so quickly."
I suddenly found it hard to go on. "Then I noticed that she hadn't visited in a while. I asked Aunt Dory when she was coming around next, and she was strangely evasive. Finally one day she just came out and told me, 'Wilbur, she won't be coming back. I'm sorry.' I guess she never did say that she'd died, but that must have been what happened. In any event, Aunt Dory asked me to not bring up the subject again, and I never did."
"Your Aunt Mickey meant a lot to you, didn't she?" Kiri observed softly. I nodded. To my annoyance, I found it unexpectedly difficult to speak. Kiri waited patiently, although at that moment I would have far preferred that she take off on some unrelated tangent, any tangent. "Tell me how you feel," she finally said instead. Thanks a lot, I thought in dismay.
"I just remember feeling so empty then," I managed. "You know, I think the times I spent with her were among the few times in my life when I haven't felt--lonely."
"I have an idea," I added desperately, now thoroughly appalled at how far things had deteriorated, "why don't we just start tonight's movie now?" Kiri gave me a quick squeeze on the shoulder and mercifully set to work turning on the equipment as I used the respite to pull myself together. Great, I thought ruefully, she must really think I'm a space case. But somehow I felt closer than ever to her after that.
"Tell me about your Aunt Dary," she said unexpectedly as she was inserting the disc into the player.
"Dory," I corrected her, grateful for the change of subject. "Well, she was a very elderly woman, even when I was a child, and seemed to be preoccupied by cares of her own. I got the impression that she'd experienced some kind of tragedy in her life that she'd never gotten over. She was also a remarkably secretive woman; she always refused to talk about herself or her past. When she died and I went through her things, I didn't find a single photograph, letter, or anything else to give me even a clue as to her life before she took on raising me. I guess in her own way she cared about me. She was never cruel or selfish in any way, I'd have to say. But she wasn't really what you'd call a warm personality."
"She sounds rather cold, in fact," Kiri observed.
I thought for a moment. "No, that's too harsh. Not cold. Just--maybe overwhelmed."
"I think part of it was the strain of taking care of me. I don't know what the circumstances were that led to her taking responsibility for me, and she never complained in the least about the fact that she was essentially raising a child from scratch at her advanced age." At least I didn't go through the diaper stage, I thought to myself. "I did find that once I went off to college she started to do a lot of traveling, sometimes for months at a time, and when I went home to visit her between trips she always seemed glad to see me. I think she finally relaxed a little once she knew that I wasn't dependent on her any more."
I don't even remember what we watched that evening; it was something on DVD I'd rented from a video shop that actually had a small selection of anime in addition to the usual Hollywood dreck. But all through the film I found myself thinking about anything but what was on the screen.
I knew that I'd always felt lonely. I'd had friends, of course, and even lived with Jeanette for a few years, but somehow I'd nevertheless always felt alone, separate, never quite "fitting in." Aunt Dory had lived in a world of her own, conscientiously taking care of my needs but not providing much in the way of companionship. That was when it finally hit me that the evenings I had been spending with Kiri had probably been the happiest hours of my life. And that I was in love with her.
I was halfway home that evening when I remembered that I had left the evening's rental DVD still sitting on her dining room table. With a muttered curse I turned the car around. Hoping she hadn't already gone to bed, I pulled into her driveway and headed up the walkway to her door.
Her living room blinds were partly open, and I was about to press the doorbell button when I glanced through the narrow opening and saw her sitting hunched over on her couch, her head in her hands, shaking. After a moment's puzzlement I realized that she was crying.
For a few seconds I debated ringing the bell and asking what was wrong, but something I couldn't quite define held me back. I finally left the DVD to accrue another day's rental and slipped away as quietly as I could.
MIKIRIA. Copyright © 1998, 2000 Lamont Downs. All rights
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