Glen Pourciau


I'd been out of sync with my surroundings for decades and considered it my natural state. I didn't know if I'd wandered off at a young age or if I'd been born out of sync and without a nose for the well-trodden path.

I was at an art gallery featuring an exhibition of historical black-and-white photographs, gazing at a picture of an older couple in worn and faded clothing standing in dirt in front of their unpainted porch, both of them utterly free of any desire to strike a pose that would cultivate a favorable impression of them. The woman wore an entrenched scowl that seemed to have nothing to do with the event of having her picture taken. The man, who was shoeless, yielded no facial expression and appeared to view the photographer's presence as irrelevant to him. I searched for something of myself in their aspect, but I remained apart from them, just as I felt apart from the various people at the gallery, some of them gathered in small groups and conversing, others taking in the photos. My eyes were focused on the folds beneath the scowling woman's eyes when I heard a familiar voice say my name.

The Benbrooks had been friends of mine, more or less, when I'd been married, though after Violet and I split they chose to remain friends with her instead of me. They made the right choice. It was Ben Benbrook who walked up to me, his gleaming row of dental veneers on display. The Benbrooks were exactly the type of people who put me on edge. They seemed desirous of drawing people out with their facade of contrived harmonic vibrations. Their constant air of ease made my skin crawl, chuckling and smiling at nothing, oblivious to anything miserable around them, blazing a trail of good cheer wherever they went. I could hardly keep myself from popping off at Benbrook whenever I spoke with him. He seemed to greet you happily for the sole purpose of embarrassing you for not being as happy and relaxed as he was. What did he want from you when he shook your hand? Did he want you to show your happy teeth and embrace him, try to outdo him with your merriment, flaunting how relaxing it was to see him?

Gary, Gary, Gary, he said, slapping me on the back with one hand and giving me a handshake with the other while flashing his veneers. He had a habit of repeating my name as if in disbelief. How long has it been? he asked. Still a bundle of futile and pointless nerves, I see. Ever ask yourself what the proper relation to things is and who you really want to be?

I've always wanted to ask you the same thing, I answered, seeing no reason to hold back.

He was laughing off my reply as Brenda Benbrook, his wife, came toward us. At the sight of me the flesh around her Botox injections sagged a notch. Gary, she said, with a look of horror. Gary, Gary. Hope you're well. She hurried off to a nearby gathering of people. So good to see you, I heard her sing to someone.

Rather than prolong the awkwardness, I told Benbrook I was sure he hadn't changed either, and then stepped away.

You know, Gary, he said, gripping my retreating shoulder, I've been meaning to call you. We should get together for a drink sometime. Catch up on things.

A momentary downward turn of his facial muscles intrigued me, though they recovered quickly and returned to their mirthful position. Could someone else be lurking somewhere inside Benbrook? I agreed to meet him the next evening at the bar in a restaurant where the four of us used to go to dinner.

It was clear as we ordered our vodka martinis that Benbrook had something on his mind. His mouth twitched as if reluctant to translate his thoughts into words, and this was the first time I'd seen him without his shiny fake teeth lighting the way into his face. He waited for the martinis to arrive, not wanting to be interrupted, and his eyes avoided mine when he spoke.

So you have to be wondering, he began, sighing. It's hard for me to tell you this, but I'm in love with Violet. I don't know how to talk about this subject with anyone and that's why I'm talking to you. I hope that didn't sound insulting, forgive me, I just thought you're the one person I know who would understand. This grinds against all my beliefs. Vi senses something, I can tell, but I haven't said anything and how could I? It doesn't fit anywhere, does it? But maybe you think it does. I'm not asking you to sort out my feelings, don't misunderstand. That's not why I asked you here. I want to ask you a favor.

He looked up at me then. Did he expect me to agree without knowing what the favor was?

I know you still talk to Vi occasionally. She speaks fondly of you, can you imagine? Again, I don't mean to be insulting, but she's quite a person. What I'm trying to get around to is I want you to call and ask her not to yield to my desires, and I want her to know I asked you to tell her that. I think she'd be more at ease around me if she knew I had no expectations of her and wanted to be denied. I can't put my feelings for her out into the open. It makes me almost nauseated to think of speaking to her this way.

I see nothing unusual about the way you feel, I said, and I don't think you need to be upset. If you don't want to act on your desires, then don't. But why tell her about them and why ask me to speak for you? You say you can't put your feelings out in the open, but that's what you're asking me to do.

I don't need to be upset? What about Brenda? This is complicated. I've never been through this before, if you're wondering. I'm not an affair guy, okay? I thought you'd know how to talk with her and that's why I'm asking you.

Vi won't want to hear this. Can't you see that? And if you don't say anything, Brenda won't have to hear it either.

I can tell Vi's not interested in me and I'm making her uncomfortable. I can't believe you'd refuse to help me, and especially her.

You want me to deal with your dark side because you can't own up to it. When you asked about my proper relation to things you were already trying to manipulate me into helping you. Were you in the proper relation to me when you greeted me with those insulting questions?

You think we're all animals, but less real and therefore beneath them, and people who want order and harmony in their lives are engaged in a performance and denying essential truths about themselves. But I think there's nothing wrong with wanting to be a better and more gracious person. I wish you thought so, too.

I don't have a problem with your wanting to be a better person. But no matter what we do, we can only be so good inside, and something about the way you're feeling could be making you fear I'm right. If you were a Buddhist monk you'd have to meditate for hours every single day to get the most out of whatever goodness was inside you, and you ain't no monk.

I dropped a twenty on the table and left, and at that moment I thought that was the end of the matter. But I kept thinking of Benbrook and how I'd left him with my dismissive lesson and without expressing any compassion for his suffering, which I had to admit was real. For years I'd wanted to see more suffering out of him, but when faced with it I'd tossed him aside. Couldn't I extend myself out of some sense of kinship with him as a person burdened by confusion and disorder? Something in me resisted this line of thought and the connection with Benbrook, but was that because he'd disparaged me and I wanted to get even by leaving him unaided? I didn't tell him I'd call her, fearing that at the last moment, perhaps as Vi's phone rang, I'd feel my throat constrict and I'd chicken out.

As soon as Vi heard it was me she asked if I could guess who'd just called her with a confession.

The Twin B, she told me, using our nickname for Ben Benbrook. And since we got off the phone I can't stop thinking of what his real teeth look like underneath the veneers. He said he's fallen in love with me and there's nothing he can do about it. He doesn't want me to think he hopes anything will happen, but if something does, if he gets drunk on martinis and bangs on my door in the middle of the night, I should turn him away. If he calls me in a moment of weakness I should hang up on him. He asked me to help him keep his promise to himself that nothing can come of his feelings.

What did you tell him?

I told him not to worry and then I hung up.

It's what he asked you to do.

In a way I wanted to talk more, to get my thoughts in order, but how could I know what his intentions were? Did he know what his intentions were? Why call and tell me not to let him talk about the thing he was talking to me about? It doesn't make sense. Maybe he wanted me to say I had feelings for him, that I'd fantasized us being together, but I had no hidden feelings to share and I didn't want to hear about his rampaging lust. I can't bear to imagine how long he's been thinking of me this way. Can you believe him making me listen to this stuff? How can I be with them now? It would be like I've got a secret from Brenda; but if I tell her I'd be causing trouble. Why are you calling, anyway?

This is not the first I've heard of the Twin B's feelings for you.

You're kidding. How long have you known? I didn't know that he confided in you. Does he love you too?

No, he doesn't love me. I ran into them at a gallery and he asked me to have a drink with him. We met yesterday and he made a clean breast of it. He asked me to tell you that if he weakens, he does not want or expect you to act on his desires. I told him I wouldn't do it. He must have felt desperate.

You turned him down but changed your mind.

He asked me to help and I thought I'd try.

Did you see Brenda? Did she seem upset?

The sight of me alarmed her, but I thought that was just normal revulsion.

Do you think she knows?

I don't have any idea, and I doubt he's a reliable witness. He thought you knew or at least suspected.

I had inklings more than once, but chose to ignore them. I'm surprised you'd let him twist you into being his spokesperson. I can't forget that whenever we planned to get together with the Benbrooks you indulged yourself in imaginary arguments for days before, even more so than with our other friends, and after we met the internal arguments continued and you'd tell me all about these arguments, always adding your one-sided commentary. I spent most of these evenings fearing you were on the verge of an eruption. You never stopped thinking less of them for being too nice, even for being relaxed. You imagined provoking disorder with them just to make some point that you alone understood. Well now we've got disorder, and I'm telling you I don't like it.

I'm sorry I got myself in the middle of this.

I'm the one who's in the middle. And Brenda, though she may not know she is. I want to get off the phone now, and if your new buddy should ask you I don't want to hear anything more about his desires. Goodbye.

Less than half an hour after talking with Vi, my mind still churning through her remarks, my phone rang. I saw that it was Benbrook, but I dreaded continuing our conversation and telling him I'd called Vi. I considered deleting his message without listening to it, but I thought of him alone and mired in his upheaval.

I spoke with Vi, he whispered into the recorder, clearly not in recovery mode. I didn't feel like myself. My voice couldn't surrender to the words I was saying. I know you said you wouldn't call her, but in case you're still thinking about it I thought I should tell you you don't need to, and if you spoke with her now she'd only feel more tangled in the mess. I'm pretty sure Brenda's beginning to sense something's up with me. If she asks why Vi won't see us anymore, how will I explain it to her? Everything's gotten out of joint. I know you understand and I think that's one reason I spoke with you. You think I should accept what I feel, I know. I can't do that and I can't tell Brenda, even if she asks me. But I don't think she will. Things are quiet around here, and I'm trying not to hear what's inside the silence. That's the way we prefer it, Gary. Remember not to say anything to Vi. I see now I shouldn't have involved either of you. It would have seemed less real if I hadn't.