Magdalena

Magdalena Magdalena lived in a hotel in Amagansett, a big boxy structure with rows of rooms looking out over the dunes to the ocean. Her room was a small studio with no curtains on the big window. She had taken long strips of brown butcher paper and hung them from floor to ceiling in an attempt to keep out the light. There were drawings tacked directly into the sheet rock and paintings stacked against the walls. The paintings were on plywood. She told me at first she used plywood because she could not afford canvas and now she’d gotten used to the rough uneven surface and liked the effect it produced. I woke to the sun pouring into the small room, the wide strips of paper offering little resistance. She was sitting at her desk drawing a picture of me. ‘You’re awake, good, lets go get some coffee.’ Outside we stood on the walkway that connected the rooms looking across the rolling dunes to the ocean beyond. ‘Not too many people live out here in the off season. It’s cheap now but I have to give it up in June when the rent goes up.’ Back at my place in the city I received the first of her cryptic letters, penciled in an unruly script on thick paper torn from her sketch pads. She preferred letters to talking on the phone but wrote in such convolutions that I never completely understood what she was trying to say. I wondered if I was missing something, if maybe the letters were profound and I was unable to comprehend them. When I went out again to the beach I did not try to see her. She wrote to me saying she had a new boyfriend, they were going to go to France together. ‘Maybe we won’t come back’. We agreed to meet at the beach on Gibson Lane in Sagaponack. As I drove down past the horse farms and the potato fields on either side of the road I saw that her faded blue VW bug was the only car there. I pulled my pickup truck next to it. She was leaning on her car smoking a cigarette, looking at me, her straight black hair emphasizing the paleness of her face, her green eyes hidden by large sunglasses.  The late summer light, the constant chorus of crickets and the gatherings of the swallows into long rows on the telephone wires gave the place both a feeling of stillness and of impending change. A man rode up on a bicycle and parked it next to her car. He walked by on his way to the beach and nodded hello. ‘That’s Andre.’ ‘Who’? she said looking in his direction. ‘You know, “My Dinner with Andre”. That was Andre.’ She had said she would bring lunch but all she had was a half finished bottle of red wine and a baguette. ‘You’re late so I started without you’ she said, passing me the bottle. ‘No thanks, too early for me.’ She laughed ‘In France they drink wine with every meal.’ ‘I think they eat at every meal too.’ ‘Touche’ she said as she walked up the big dunes into a valley of shaded sand. I lay down across from where she sat and felt the coolness on my back. We were in the cleft of a bosom of the dune, dark swallows darting erratic into view against the deep blue sky, the muted sound of the waves breaking a constant. She looked like she was about to speak but instead vomited, the red liquid that came out looking like old blood as it spread a stain on the sand. ‘I’m sorry, I have to go.’ ‘Let me drive you.’ ‘No, I’m all right’ she spat out, startling me as she turned away. I listened to the gears change as she drove off, a cloud of dust following her until she made the turn at Daniel’s Lane and was gone. The next time I heard from her she was back from France, living in Hampton Bays by herself. ‘Come out any time, you don’t need to call’ she wrote. It was late September, my favorite time to be out there so I took her up on the invitation. Turning down a straight road of small cottages I found the house and pulled into the driveway, just two dirt tracks worn into the grass. Her cat, a half feral animal with one ear torn sat on the steps looking at me with yellow eyes. It had only a stump for a tail. Peering through the glass, I watched Magdalena come to open the door. By the way she moved I guessed she had already been drinking. My impulse was to turn and go but it was too late for that. She kissed me hello, I could taste the sourness of the wine on her lips. ‘What happened to Van Gogh, I don’t recall him being a Manx.’ ‘A what?’ ‘A cat with no tail.’ ‘Oh that. He was gone for a few days, I thought he must be dead. One morning I heard scratching at the door. He was a mess, limping and bloody, then I saw his tail was just hanging there by a thin strip of skin. I got my garden shears and cut it off. He didn’t like that, scratched me up pretty bad.’ She showed her inner arm, the white, almost transparent skin lined with bright pink scars over pale blue veins. In bed she soon fell asleep. I waited a while before I got up and dressed. Opening the door I saw Van Gogh sitting on the porch gnawing on a small dark gray animal. The cat looked up, his yellow eyes catching a reflected light that seemed to come from within. He picked up the small limp body, the tail already chewed away. Walking off quickly, hunched low to the ground, he paused once to look back before disappearing into the dark. I drove back to Route 27 and headed out east to Wainscot. Parking at the end of Beach Lane I walked out onto the sand. The almost full moon cast a light so strong it made a long shadow behind me. Large tufts of gray clouds blew across the sky at random, blotting out the moon. One moment I was covered in bright light and the next in darkness with the beach in front of and behind me still glowing. The clouds were moving fast, the light and dark changing as I walked up to Georgica Pond. Standing at the narrow strip of sand that separated the pond from the ocean I watched the waves steadily coming in. Stripping naked, I waded into the black water. A cloud passed and as its dark shadow enveloped me I looked out over the ocean to the horizon feeling, small at the edge of the vast churning sea. When the moon shone again it’s luminous light was caught and shattered on the surface of the rolling waves, I was mesmerized by the crazed dance of silver flames. After a while I got out and dried myself with my shirt, pulling my jeans over my damp legs. I sat watching the moonlight come and go until the sky began to change. In the soft predawn light I walked up to the pond and stood shivering at the edge. The moon was lower in the sky, the blazing curve of the rising sun was breaking through at the oceans edge. A pair of mergansers flew into view, skidding onto the glassy surface of the pond, breaking the mirror-like veneer into shards. They washed themselves by dipping their heads forward under water in graceful contortions, the liquid like beads of mercury as it rolled from their backs. They expanded and contracted their pompadour hoods, the male’s a stark white, the female’s an aurora of subtle shades of brown. She dove under first and the male soon followed. It seemed minutes before they surfaced again. The early sun was on them now, in the female’s mouth the silver tail of a small fish glittered. When she tilted her head back, opening her slender beak to swallow, I could see a row of small perfect black teeth glistening in the morning light.