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poetry during the war

They don’t report on poetry. It’s not news in the same way Suez is, hanging is, debutants are. There are days it should be. There are days Freddie wants to give Hector scripts of poetry–except for how he probably has a terrible sense for reading it aloud and there are few things worse than butchered Cummings. Poetry is something the world needs, but does not know how to ask for and that's one of the reasons why war will wear them all down, secrets and lies and death and hurting each other in ways which remove blood and ways which do not, but which are so often worse. Maybe if the world was a place where people wanted poetry like they wanted power, if that’s how you won elections and wrote laws and conquered people–well none of those things would matter, because you would have poetry, your currency. When the world splutters and ends (tanks and fire and screaming children) it will be because no one read quite enough poetry.

Freddie doesn’t write it. God, yes, he tried in youth, but it was all too mushy between his brain and the page and he’s a man hungry for facts, besides. It never bothered him, copying down other people's words to send to her because Bel should hear it said best, not just his best. "somewhere i have never travelled” wasn’t the first or the last, but it was the one he'd thought perfectly captured them and to learn she didn't remember he'd even sent poems– Well, maybe he should have written them himself, given her something to laugh over at least.

(At the time Bel had said, "For God's sake Freddie, you don't have to waste your money on postage. Just leave the poems on my desk if you must," and so he did. And he doesn't know quite why he stopped–a new man who took her to dinner and maybe to bed; a girl smiling at him in a cafe; the weather turning warm, strange and for a whole week–just that one day he did.)

It’s a puncture in both his lungs when Freddie has to watch her with everything he is not and will never be. Style and shape. Jawbones and shoulders. Bel fancies herself brave for loving a man like Hector, but Freddie knows families like his (like the Elms’). They seat their history at dinner, just as live as the guests, feasting fat on tradition. They’re the people still publicly believe in governmental honor and loyalty and a correct kind of socks. Hector might dismiss dressing for dinner, but it’s all part of a world–order and caste–keeps him comfortable. Men like him enjoy other women, but keep their wives.

Hector will hurt her, but Freddie won’t stop them. That’s not the game he plays. This is their youth (he and Bel) and their love doesn’t live here. It’s waiting (brown paper and butcher’s tape) for the day Bel knows herself well enough to see him as more than a little boy.

Theirs is a long story.


precious cargo

In the city, forget the country. One building a press against the next is not claustrophobia, but friend. Traffic and its proper noise–brakes and tight corners onto the curb–a drowning of bugs and wild things. This is how marvelous new synthetics and toothpaste squished over everything and bloody sardines can disappear. Inside Bel’s apartment (lock the beast it always is) the world is as big as the rooms she lets and they are just two people who perhaps met one day in the rain.

(After sending Freddie and his conspiracy to bed in his own room, she told herself that up until the very moment she gave in–photographs against his back–she could have stepped away from it all, but that's a lie, actually, because they were dancing, not shooting, and then the men came home like from war bearing bodies, and Hector–hero’s name–right over bird and rabbit, right in front of God and his wife, touched her hand and she let him.)

She and Hector share toast (and more) in the studio, something daring (but something which shouldn't be), and Hector lights a part of her–a man who understands this job is not the place holder until hearth and home and shrill wailing at night.

In a dead man's coat, Freddie and his thorns prick everyone dry. He needs sleep and breakfast and to not get himself into any more trouble–looks even smaller now, grey silhouette, too big in the shoulders. They pass parallel–how to fix Freddie, Hector's hand low on her back–and Bel is proud in her balance and grace.

Then Marnie calls, wallpaper, voice like a stick secretly carved sharp, but she's stronger than that too. She and Hector are stronger than that. Freddie, he uses truth like a blunt object (and maybe that's what will knock them over), but then he just knows and somehow it’s the easiest he's been about anything in days. Part of it might be the drink, but the rest is just Freddie, always waiting turn, not happy, but willing. (And Bel would call herself cruel, except for how she's starting to suspect he doesn't mind.)

Hector finds them on the stairs–Freddie's seams showing–and she wants to know what other beautiful things he might say, but how her body turns to Hector is why she can't let him.

Here, they dance together.


how you should be

Hector is not someone who ignored news (paper over breakfast, radio and television), but it's different living in the shadows of stories. Reporting does not tame the world. To the viewer, maybe, news from a box–segments, q and a, over at the hour–sounds like something clean and stable, but it's cells splitting, fire twisting, glass spiderwebbed. Hector ends each week in wonder for how the world will have turned before the next. The world is changing in physical, gasping, broken-bone ways and he is its voice and he doesn't shake.

Hector wills the footsteps to stop before reaching Bel's door–just someone come home with shopping, someone gone out for supper–but it's Freddie, again, rattling. He folds too easy into this space; looks too much like home.

Bel treats him like a child. And a friend. And a brother. And a colleague. But a lover? Hector thought not, thought Freddie just the lonely puppy, but Bel changes gentle for him. Hector loves her fire, but no one burns without burning out and it should be for him she takes off her Amazon mask, not that boy.

Freddie is smart and Freddie is brave and Freddie is foolish and youth marks his skinny frame, his loose clothing, his honest words. Success is acting like you already have it–lies and all–but Freddie would laugh at him for thinking success something he sought. It's all about truth–easy when you still believe truth always serves best–and the truth is Freddie has part of Bel's heart, but not enough.

It's how long they've known each other, how familiar time leaves people, and there will be a moment, soon, when she finally makes Freddie let go. She cares for him too much to keep him trapped, loveless and small. Hector would have it happen now. Take away his permissions, his excuses, his parachute. Even when it's just him and Bel, it's not because Freddie's on the other side on the phone and Bel always answers.

He's supposed to be the married one.


a woman in the rain

She believes Hector, believes he loves her–it’s the kind of love he’s talking about which is the trouble. Hector doesn’t love her like he loves Marnie. Hector loves her like an adventure and all adventures end. Whether it’s because you die–fighting wild beasts or in fire or water or war–or simply because you’ve conquered or found or just circled the world back home. There are always the lulls between the fury and the mountains and the storms and that’s where Hector loves his wife. (And how she loves him too, warts and all, enough).

But what Hector said and what Hector meant don’t matter anyway because when she was told this job or that man, there was no decision. It was always The Hour. Hector is something remarkable, but there are a lot of people in the world and there are not many news shows (and none like hers). It’s the mistake of wanting everything, all at once. Her real dream, this show, and then her heart ran away, icing and candles, and the wax ruined it, splatter like Pollock.

What Bel hates the most (even more than the looks which make her feel smaller and smaller until impossible to cut), is that she was wrong about Hector. She’d thought he lived with the same current (skin and under): work not because you are trying to replace or escape, but because it is love’s labor. Hector walked around with such inbred confidence, it was easy to forget he’s a little boy who needs his suits pressed and his meals made and his hand held. Hector took this ride with them, held the reins when asked, but now he will go so many other places and build so many other things and one of those will replace this. Bel will never regret who she proved herself to be, with what she put on air, but she will always regret not doing it even more brilliantly.

For everything Hector brought to the show, at the end of it, he was still just a man waiting for questions, for Freddie. Maybe that’s what she’s doing, too. Waiting for Freddie to look at the man taking her to dinner and punch him. It’s never something he would do though, because whoever she wanted to go to dinner with he would respect and honor that and how she is so lucky to know someone so selfless is absurd because she can be so selfish sometimes it’s like an actual pain.

Perhaps, she has lived lighter than she thought.


i wanted tiny roses and he wanted plain

In France, they have two children and teach them not to fear the world. They learn maps and language and art and rowing. They don’t have to stay home or go to bed just because the grown-ups are talking. They create good and clever and brave for a world dearly needs it. (That the children don’t do much with all that knowledge is why no one comes home for holidays and why they eat with the television on.)

In France, she leaves him. He stays, wanders in the rain, the lights which always look softer than in England. One day, he books a ship to America and sees the desert. Hector returns to England four years after he leaves it and he sees them in a grocery. Freddie just as skinny, Bel just as wonderful. He’d figured it out when still in France that just by entertaining the idea that maybe one day Bel could love him enough to give herself up–that he’d already lost her. They buy a cake, not chocolate; Freddie’s birthday.

In France, they soon realize they are strangers. They fight and break up and then it’s Bel says they have to start again, forgetting all of England. So they try that and Hector is shocked to realize how much he misses Marnie. At home, he kept moving because if he stopped he was afraid she would smother him, but here Bel is always in another room working on some story and he just wants someone to sit next to him on the couch and talk about people he doesn’t care for. What matters just as much is how the other person loves you, how Marnie did it despite, how Bel laughed at him and left. (Marnie does not take him back, when he asks with tiny, pink roses.)

In London, Marnie takes his coat and hat and stands across from him in the entrance to their flat. She doesn’t speak and he is struck, foolish, for the first time, with how much she knows. He tries to apologize, but she shakes her head and takes his hand and they go to bed.

“I don’t know,” she says in the morning, eggs fried and toast, “if one day I won’t be able to forgive you anymore.”

That she’ll try is something Hector knows he doesn’t deserve.


big betrayal or small betrayal?

Freddie feels soggy and chewed up, spit out of a giant’s mouth, all the wrong taste. As a child, he thought how he looked at the world–honest and searching–was how everyone did, just less obviously. The war cured him of that, but he still hopes to find individual people. Thought everyone here fit closer than most, but Clarence– It’s like a bad adventure novel. The twist no one sees coming because there are no clues, just a lonely man in search of audience who all of a sudden realizes spies are dramatic and so turns a character. Freddie hates not knowing why, but he hates not understanding why more.

He missed something so large he doesn’t know how he’ll trust himself, now, to look at puzzles. Or who he can ask for help. Maybe Bel believing he would give her up for something is what keeps him honest. But how she could think him so weak–it’s the example set by all those other men, by all the bloody people in the world who betray and hate and kill. He is different (especially with her) and he can’t believe how far away from him Bel still is sometimes.

Tonight, Bel will force her way into her own apartment and Freddie will eat whatever horrible food she has and he will tell her this whole story. And after she has yelled at him for secrets, for not letting her do her job properly, he will sit on the floor and tell her he knew Hector was trouble, right from the start. She will laugh and not take him seriously and he isn’t, really. He doesn’t hate Hector. Will admit he could actually be good at all this if he committed. Bel understands mistake and failure and foolish. She doesn't need anyone to tell her of her crimes, just someone who sees her, not who she loved.

"I hate you," she says and then again and she has never sounded that unsure or that certain.

Freddie is so tired and this coat does not fit and there are people (Ruth) who are still dead and a man he worshiped broke his heart today and–

"I love you too," he says, one word switched out for something sounds easier, but which never actually is.