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An Excerpt from AMALIA



Chapter Five.


An Infinity of Pines


α.


Follow me.

Cynthia opened her eyes in the darkness. She had been dreaming of the mountains. The echoes of primal screams followed her back up to room 156 where she looked at the unobstructed, small digital clock on the other side of the bed; where Thomas would have been had he been sleeping beside her. The clock said 12:27.

Even before that familiar seething jealousy and rage had a chance to come bubbling up to the surface (...where is he I'll bet he's with some other woman who the hell does he think he is I suppose I shouldn't feel so guilty about Oskar but I do...), she recalled her dream. Cynthia was surprised that she even remembered it at all, let alone as vividly as this—she hardly ever remembered her dreams beyond the ghost of an image or the last syllable of a secret word. She also, more often than not, rendered herself comatose with farmaka, and floated on a black sea of dreamless oblivion in a boat without a pilot.

She remembered the mountains and their bonfires—could still see them, in fact, in her mind's eye. The trees, an infinity of pines uplifting their limbs to the heavens as if to draw the moon down into their midst. Pipes and flutes, shrill, and rhythmic pounding on drums far off in the concealment of trees. The travel-worn path twisting up into the rustic wilds, lit by burning pinecones and torches and great bonfires swirling from the summits upward into the hazy night. One of the torches was carried by the dreamer, by she, by Cynthia, although she was not known by that name as she ran along with the others. This creature hooting and running along the path, naked, scratched and bleeding from numberless branches and boughs, holding up her burning staff with leaves in her hair and madness in her eyes; she was a woman of the woods, she had no name. She was part of a force eclipsing herself, a living dithyramb, and had forgotten herself in her ecstasy. She shared the path with other women of the woods, naked and covered in cuts and sweat and mud, bearing torches and thyrsi as they cried aloud and screamed to invoke the forest and its laughing, ruddy-faced god.

She recalled the smell of smoke, of evergreen burning, and saw the shadows of animals dancing between the trees as she and her train gyred and slithered upward and upward still toward the summit of the mountain. The animals, the dryads and the hemadryads, the nymphs and the fauns with their stubby horns, pointed tongues and insatiable erections; these bounded out from their hiding places and joined the procession up the winding path. The bleating of goats hung like a musky cloud, the pipes and the flutes rose on the wind, and the drums thumped and pounded around her, around them all, arising from them all.

At the top of the mountain, beneath the eye of the moon and the ecstatic dancing of the bonfires sat the god upon a rough stone girded in ivy. He held a chalice in one hand, and wine spilled forevermore from its lip to the lush earth, from which grapevines sprouted, grew and crept; and he was garmented in the skin of a leopard. His legs resembled the hooves of a goat, and she—the woman who wore a mask named Cynthia—felt her own arousal deepen when she saw them. The mountain was her, therefore, and the goat that trode her had mastered her wild ways. The pounding of the drums surrounded the procession as they filed into a clearing brandishing their torches and crying aloud and sweeping the starry sky with fire. The dreamer stepped forward to look upon the god, and it was when she looked into strange eyes that resembled nothing human, heavy with intoxication and lust, that she heard him call out to her from across the gulf:

Follow me.

Cynthia lay there for a few moments in the calm, looking at the clock and the empty space beside her. She listened to the drums receding back into her subconscious, and when they had finally quieted enough for her to realize that it was the thumping of her heart that she was hearing, Cynthia heard another sound, this much closer: the key rattling in the door, the slide of the deadbolt. She turned her back to it as the door swung open, closing her eyes.

She listened to him undress, listened to his belt buckle knock against the chair as he slung his pants over its back, and listened to him pad to the bathroom. The toilet flushed, water ran, and he came out a few moments later and climbed into the bed beside the shape of his wife. He spooned up to her in the darkness, blocking out the digital clock that now said 12:39, and kissed the back of her head. “Love you, Cyn,” he whispered. Cynthia pretended that she was asleep. She listened to the drums instead.


β.


“I'm taking the Pony out today,” Cynthia told him over breakfast. She sipped her coffee. Thomas looked at her.

“Ok. Where are you going? Not to the sanctuary, I hope.” Thomas turned his head slightly. His breakfast remained untouched before him.

“Of course not. We'll do that together. We promised. I just want to go for a drive. I need to get out of here for a while. You're probably going to write all day, anyway.”

“I'm definitely going to try. Just be careful. Dinner at six?”

He hasn't planned going down to dinner once since we arrived. Curious. It's almost as if he's trying to give me a curfew. “Sure,” she said. “Dinner at six. And dancing afterward?”

Is she joking? Thomas did not dance, and he had made it painfully obvious on the handful of times early on in their relationship that he made the attempt. Like yoga. For love.

“Maybe not tonight, Cyn,” he said quickly, suddenly looking very uncomfortable. Cynthia saw the change of expression and immediately the knife in her stomach turned. She wished that she had taken a Valium, even bitten one in half. She would definitely need one after this.

“I'm kidding,” she said with a forced laugh and toss of her hair. “We don't have to dance. You've got two left feet, anyway. But why don't we try spending some time together. We can go for a walk or a swim or drinks down in the lounge. You know, I haven't been down there once, and you seem to love it.”

Cynthia asked herself why she was trying, and discovered that it was because she wanted to place a curfew upon Thomas. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, yes? She didn't know where he disappeared to at night, and he never came back stinking of gin and cigarettes and stale perfume, but he was up to something, most certainly.

“We'll see,” Thomas said decisively and took an obligatory bite of cantaloupe.

Oh, he had been gnawing at her, ever since he came in last night; Cynthia decided not to let it go. Sometimes she did, even with his occasional impotent attempts to suddenly take charge, put on the pants and put his foot down and get down to brass tacks. “'We'll see'? See what?” she snapped with a sneer. “What's there to see? What else are we doing? I know that I'm not up to anything. I want to spend time with you tonight if that's all right!” She slammed her hand down on the table. The cups in their saucers clanged their alarm like drachma in a purse. A nearby table of tourists cast their collective awkward glance in their direction.

“Calm down, Cyn!” Thomas whispered through gritted teeth. “Ok, I'll stay in! We'll spend the evening doing whatever you want! Do you want to go to the lounge? It's kind of boring, but so what? We'll go get stinking drunk if you'd like, and stumble back to our room and go at it like we did back in college!”

“Yes, that will placate your wife, Thomas, that will feed the dragon.”

Thomas threw up his hands. “Cyn, what do you want me to say? You're impossible, you know. Why are you saying these things?”

“Because someone needs to say them.”

“Oh, of course. And you're just laying it all out as a courtesy. Letting me know where we stand from your lofty height. Doing me a favor.”

“I'm not letting you know anything. I'm saying that we came here to fix our marriage, remember? Why aren't we doing it? You aren't even writing.”

“You're all over the place, Cyn,” Thomas observed from his lofty height. “Did you forget to take your meds?”

Out of any and every thing that he could have said, 'Did you forget to take your meds?' was the worst possible choice. Cynthia—who, incidentally, had forgotten to take her medication this morning, distracted by recollections of her weird dream—leapt up from the table in a dramatic display. Her eyes were gleaming. “No!” she cried. “No, I didn't forget!” Then, “Where have you been going at night? Who are you with?” Other seated tables turned to look. One couple nearby began whispering excitedly to one another in French. The Asian man from room 12 was preparing to take their picture while his wife simply looked on as if she were admiring any other ruin. A manager was moving briskly toward them, his shoes clicking smartly on the tiles.

“I'm sorry, Cyn!” Thomas groaned, listening mortified to the clicking sound approaching from behind. “Sit down, please! Let's talk about this!” He did know, however, from past experience, that it was already too late.

“Now you want to talk?” Cynthia screamed. She threw her cloth napkin, smudged with lipstick, down on the table. “What do you want to talk about? How about where you're going at night? How about two nights ago when you didn't get in until the sun came up? I know that I've never been up to any good if I was getting home as the sun was coming up!” Tears were squeezing with reluctance from her eyes, and her mascara was running, but only a little. Enough. Thomas felt ashamed that it excited him.

“Excuse,” the manager said, holding his hands before him defensively. His name tag said 'George.' “Everything is all right?”

“We're fine,” Thomas said, smiling and shaking his head. “We're fine, really.”

“No, we are not!” Cynthia thundered. “We are not fine, and we have not been fine! Stop pretending!” Cynthia wanted to stop yelling. She wanted to calm herself and take deep breaths and talk about her feelings. She said it to herself: calm down, you crazy bitch! But she was trembling, seething, and there would be neither deep breaths nor talking until her rage had played itself out. Cynthia felt as if she were outside of herself, looking down at her and the crumpled heap of her husband.

Cynthia was suddenly hit with the necessity to exit. She couldn't breathe. The lights were too bright, and oh God, is that couple actually standing at their table to get a better look? She had to leave here right now and be far, far away from the bug eyes scrutinizing her and judging her and, most annoyingly, pitying her.

“Cynthia, sit down!” Thomas howled, his hands held over his head in vain protest. His coffee cup had overturned and filtered coffee ran across the tabletop and over the side, forming a small pool on the floor. Then, to George, “I'm sorry about this. Please, let me clean it.” He reached for a napkin. This enraged Cynthia further.

“You can't take me anywhere, can you, Thomas!” she screamed. “You always have to follow me around with a towel and an excuse to clean up my mess, don't you? Your messy wife!” And with that, she swept the entire contents off of the table; the cups, saucers, Thomas's untouched breakfast, they all crashed to the floor. Thomas leapt up. The front of his pants were soaked with cantaloupe juice.

“Excuse,” George said again, holding up his hands and smiling in horror.

“Cyn-thia?”

Cynthia, Thomas, and George all turned. The German from room 111 was now in their midst, looking at her with an expression of concern. “Is everything is okay?”

“Who the hell is this? Who the hell is this?” Now Thomas was shrieking as he glared at the German, at the blond flattop that he instantly hated, his gorgeous blue eyes and tight, athletic body, and every barb of every possible scenario—both sexual and non—pierced his heart.

“Nobody.” Cynthia had lowered her voice, incredulous at the entire situation, angered and ashamed that it was brought on by her. Then, to the German, “Oskar, what are you doing here? We're fine! Go a-way!”

“His name is Oskar? How do you know him?” Thomas howled. “I knew it! Oh, God, I knew it!” All the seated tables around them had gotten up and left. Two men in jackets and ties and carrying walkie-talkies came into the restaurant and made a beeline for them. George twisted a cloth napkin in his hands and smiled pleadingly.

“Knew what? What did you know, Thomas? That I was having an affair? Because I am not. I am not! Having! An! Affair!” Cynthia punctuated each word by stomping on the ground.

“We are going to have to ask you to leave the restaurant,” one of the men said in an accent so thick it sounded like a hybrid language between Old English and ancient Greek.

“Oh, we were leaving,” Cynthia shot back. Thomas gave them a nervous smile.

“Thanks, hero,” Cynthia sneered at Oskar as she snatched up her purse and stormed out. George and the two men in jackets and ties now cast their own glances of pity upon Thomas. He was slumped so low in his chair that it looked as though he might slide off and disappear under the table, and wished that he could have just gone to Paris like he wanted to.

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