VI, "IN THE CASTLE"
wasn't easy for me at first to persuade Nan, who hardly
ever drank, to join me for a nightcap before retiring.
After so many nights of tossing, arguing, pacing the
floor and moving in and out of the living room where the
noise was sometimes less oppressive, I figured Nan was
ready for anything that would help her sleep. Here was a
habit I had left behind when I gave up solitary living. I
had no trouble picking it up again. Neither did Nan once
I started us on this routine.
The booze left her logy and disoriented the next morning;
it fouled up her regimen and made her lazy and forgetful.
But it did take the sting out of settling down at night.
According to Nan, it was more effective than Valium, and
it passed out of her system faster. Combined with the
purr of our portable fan and some easy listening music on
our clock radio, it provided us temporary asylum during
the latter days of the conflict. Not to mention the fact
that drinking gave us something to do together.
Maybe that Neanderthal below us baited his women with
jungle boogie. Maybe he slept more soundly (if
he slept) or functioned better with
it on. But he was driving us apart. The constant assault
on Nan's ears and sinuses, the intrusion into our
privacy, had robbed my wife of nearly all I knew her to
be, had robbed me of everything I loved about our life
together. Until the trouble with Missoula began, Nan and
I were still sweethearts, a teenage daughter and twenty
years of tribulation notwithstanding. Now we were tense,
bickering celibates, torn asunder by this moronic
emptiness people called "music". In just weeks,
simple tenderness had become a foreign land whose customs
no longer enticed us. There was no discussing a matter
calmly anymore, no sharing, no communion. Our feelings
were almost always bruised or in a state of turmoil. Now
that our last sweet refuge had been violated, lying down
to sleep at night had degenerated into a game of
pretendlike setting up house, like dreaming about
our futurewhich we played to fool ourselves and
The first night I brought the tray of drinks into our
bedroom, I spilled some tonic water onto the bedspread.
Nan yelped so loudly that I jerked the tray back and
nearly lost everything. Had this incident happened back
in May, we would have laughed ourselves to sleep and
forgotten about the drinks. Not tonight. Never had so
minor a mishap provoked such wailing and wringing of
hands. It wasn't until the gin started taking effect that
Nan quieted down and stopped fretting over the spill,
stopped talking to me altogether. There was no toasting,
no eye contact, none of the soft, clever sweetsie-ness
that used to begin and end our days together. We just
Back in college, when Nan and I were first courting, when
it seemed that there weren't enough hours in the day for
us to enjoy each other, we guzzled coffee by the pitcher
and stayed up half the night reading to each other,
listening to Chopin, laughing, dreaming, philosophizing.
The air crackled with excitement whenever we were
together. Tonight, we sat on opposite sides of the room,
I in a chair and Nan on the edge of the bed, sipping our
cocktails, sulking and waiting for one spell to subdue
another. The gin didn't generate desire; it merely dulled
our responses to the sound below us, and to each other.
At first, I was tensing my neck in time with the beat,
actually counting the number of DOOOM-DOOOM-DOOOM-DOOOMs.
Midway through my second drink, the tensing ceased and I
lost count. By the third, I gave up wondering what Nan
was thinking about. By the fourth, I could no longer
remember what it was about her, about us, that was so
special. I noticed that Nan, still nursing her first
drink, had begun to slouch. She no longer screwed up her
face when she swallowed. At one point, she rested her
hand on the wet bedspread and did not draw it back.
When Missoula turned up his stereo, neither of us said
anything. We simply turned up our radio, turned up the
portable fan, poured ourselves another drink and flopped
around until we were too groggy and stupid to care about
On those nights when the volume under our bed outdid the
numbing effects of gin, there was still the hammer. I had
not abandoned it, merely kept it in reserve. Hammering
was a universal language to which apartment dwellers were
especially attuned. Used sparingly, it spoke more
eloquently than any letter I could have written. A few
controlled shots on the floor every now and again
normally had a sobering, unnerving effect on a rowdy
tenant. I say, normally.
The sharp rapping brought a transgressor to atention.
Like a gavel, it set things in order; it portended
judgment; it reminded him that there was someone above
him to reckon with. The hammer had served me well in the
past, in less extreme situations. I never had to rap very
hard or very often, if at all. Most people got the
message right away.
The first time I hammered on Missoula's ceiling was
different. For it was I who received a message. I
unleashed something that night which frightened me even
more than it did Nan and Kelly. Almost as frightening was
the realization that whatever I unleashed did not seem to
frighten Missoula, at least not for long. Moreover,
having introduced the hammer into the warfare, I could no
longer retreat to my former position of respectability
and restraint. The chick, once out of the shell, would
never return. Holding my peace now was tantamount to
granting the enemy more territory than he had already
grabbed from us. No, I saw now that I had initiated
something---something that I felt compelled by an inner
force to continue, whether Missoula heeded me or not. And
each unsuccessful attempt to silence him seemed to bring
me closer and closer to a dark threshold which I dared
2004 by Ted Gargiulo Jr.
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