The rain it raineth every day
from the oral tradition, attributed in slightly different form to the 19th-century Lord Bowen by Walter Sichel in Sands of Time, 1923
I don't know," Lige whispered, like someone fumbling in a foreign language, "I don't know."
Annie kissed his neck, and lowered her head, and buried her ear in the smoothness of his chest, and held him tight and firm in wonder as her world imploded.
Not you, he sobbed in silence, Not you.
I know, she rubbed, wordlessly, I know.
Strange unromantic place for epiphany. Standing on a sidewalk in the jewel box, amid the slumbering cars, with flickering TV screens peeping out between the curtains, and the moon seeming out of place, like a priest in the marriage bed. Tiny lawns with children's lost toys, and the lost dreams of grown-ups trying to forget. Some understandings cannot be denied.
They hugged, Annie and Lige, they hugged for ever as the stars unfurled and the night grew long and cool. They hugged for days, as lifetimes passed with blinding insights none could know. They hugged in prayer and glory, they hugged till the planets bowed before them. They hugged, in point of rude fact, until a baffled householder wanted to park in the driveway next to where they stood, and the glare of his headlights broke them apart in laughter.
They looked, at themselves mirrored in each other's understanding.
"Sparks," she said.
His clarity dissolved into puzzlement.
Sparks? he replied with wrinkled brow.
Sparks, she confirmed, smoothing away the creases with her hand.
"Goa," she said, and the lights went on.
"Goa," he said in naked wonder.
"Seventy," she elaborated, and he waggled his head with a child's smile.
"You did the electrics, didn't you?"
"I never knew your name, I called you Sparks."
"I know you."
"Yes, me too."
He raised an eyebrow like a drawbridge, distancing himself with irony as the superficial inquiry served only to indicate a lack of real interest. The connection that came from the ability to ask wordless questions see, we understand each other, do we not? could function just as well to keep the other away we are not really going to talk, are we? and Lige/Sparks had used this for years, he was a master of the indistinct and deniable feint who could conceal even as he flaunted his vulnerability.
"Shut up," said Annie, reasonably.
So (natch) he didn't, but the chuckle was genuine and if it seemed out of character (and it did) that was only a sign of how buried his identity really was. Hard shells protect but stifle too.
"Know what I called you here?" she asked suddenly, expecting the answer 'no' and getting it in gesture. "Lige."
There was a pause which somehow wasn't embarrassing, to the surprise of both.
"Well, Hank's cool," he admitted, looking on the bright side.
"You know Hank Williams."
"I thought you'd be mad."
He gave up and kissed her, out of mingled passion and respect. He couldn't remember having this kind of looseness, dare he say it, fun. He wasn't in love, no no, but he was on, or she was, or someone was, and damned if he was going to stop it. She leaned back, and looked again. She was always looking, that one. (In his experience, true enough.)
"So what is your name?"
"I have many names."
This was simply true: Annie's labels had never been among them, but he had had passports by then in five names (and three nationalities), he had had lovers under several of them and many others, he had drunk and stoned under another overlapping cluster of cognomina, worked under yet another ... the set of sets was beginning to approximate infinity, where everything is equivalent to naught (and good to evil, perhaps, or is that not naughtily the same?) or meaning to null, how appropriate for the most-defined word in the English language, 'set' itself, a group or cluster of so many meanings, all distinct, and together a blur without some context to, so to speak, set it in ... such intellectual speculation was never his verbal style, but the concept was entirely familiar. He had used so many names that sometimes he thought he had achieved a blissful non-attachment and sometimes merely that he had forgotten his own. When he spoke, he wasn't kidding and his tone confirmed it and Annie could hear.
"So you have no name."
"I do not know my name."
The tears were close again. He was terribly delicate just then, his self close to exposed, the rock of his surface scratched and fissured. He stood there with immense dignity, speaking the truth, and she knew it.
Bring him down, she thought, bring him down.
"I'm Annie," she said, as a matter of purely mundane detail, and continued just as matter-of-factly, "What did they call you in Goa?" After a moment, she explained patiently, "I need to call you something."
"Goa," he said, and she waited while he disappeared into a past he rarely visited anymore. "Goa," he repeated, thinking of times he never remembered.
"In Goa they called me Whitey."
"But that's not your name."
She was pressing, she knew, but he wanted her to. What was she doing for him? And what, in turn, was he doing for her?
If she was his sibyl, he was her seer. She made him look at what he refused to face, and he gave her the power to change her own life too, for in presenting reality to him, she accepted it as her own due. More rigid than stable, apart they learned to survive and yearned to transcend. Together they each were compelled to something they could not dare alone. They each carried a glimpse of heaven, and showed it to the other.
"Come," said Annie practically, "We should see what they decided on."
"Yeah," said Whitey.
They were suddenly aware that they were out of place, clinging to each other on that suburban sidewalk, which raised the specters of cops and neighbors and other sources of tedious curiosity. They had more work to do, they accepted that, and they knew somehow there would be room for it, right then, right there, well, up the street actually.
They held hands and walked slowly towards their glorious doom.