The Mysteries of His System
The Verses in His Life
A Love Story
by Barry Grant
"Now I begin," said Audie to himself. "But where do I start?"
is one thing
is another thing
and where to start
Audie, oh Audie, knew,
but did not know he knew.
Did not, that is, until the next morning, when, his lips flat against his lovers lips at the start of the first kiss of the day, a sentence that wasnt, one moment, was, the next, in his mind. "At least one visit to every hi-end hi-fi store within a fifty mile radius of home." Audie turned pale.
"Audie," said Prudence, pulling back from the kiss as she felt his lips slacken. "Whats wrong?"
Audie answered with a song.
Audies Hi-Fi Store Song
A store with a tall blonde behind an Empire desk elegant with a single rose in a slim vase who raises her eyes from Vogue and takes a long slow breath and another long slow breath and asks your name and records it in large leather-bound book and says please wait a salesman will be with you presently and she pronounces presently like a movie star blowing a kiss at her next fan and she looks down at her magazine and you wait for the salesman who stands nearby, watching the blonde.
A store with salesmen in stiff white shirts and wide flowered ties who batter you with a patter of stories about meetings with designers and musicians and when you begin to look restless they turn down the volume of the music and up the velocity of the chatter.
A store where lonely middle-aged men gather in the evenings to criticize the merchandise and swap interconnects and mock the purchases of friends not present and pick over the LPs while the owner sits in the back room, smoking, watching through a cloudy window, waiting for BMWs and Jaguars to stop in the lot.
A store that no matter what you ask to audition the salesmen tell you you dont want to hear it and why and insist you listen to something that costs more and happens to be set up.
A store owned by guys who claim their top of the line beats any electronics in the world, even ones costing thousands. . . less.
A store with rooms crowded with speakers where the salesmen pull two away from the wall then toe them in a bit, so you know theyre set up right.
A store in a living room with a couch wrapped in plastic set six feet from full-range speakers pressed against the wall and a short, well-heeled dermatologist who sells the speakers out of his house and says "Great bass, huh?" while his Pekinese with its head in a plastic funnel runs behind the couch and yaps.
Audie and Prudence fell laughing onto their bed. Midway of the first verse Audie had grabbed Prudence and waltzed her round the bedroom, her sweet soprano joining his ragged tenor as together they howled the breaks.
"Audie that was a wonderful song. As you sang the song I felt I was in those stores with you, especially the one with the men and the wires," Prudence said.
Prudence stopped laughing. Then she stopped smiling. Then she looked hard into Audies eyes and said, "What are you afraid of?"
Audie stopped smiling.
"What am I afraid of? The nice hi-fi stores didnt fit the song. One store in a loft owned by a swell guy who asks new customers to confess their systems while he takes notes and gives absolution. One with an owner who talks politics and the New World Order (thats what he calls it) and forgets youve come to buy hi-fi. Even one with a pretty girl who likes to talk about her system. So I cant be afraid of stores, that is, all stores, stores in general."
"Fear must have an object."
"There are things about myself that I dont know. Everyone has these things, though they dont always know they have them. This is one thing about myself that I dont know."
That night, coiled in the arch of Prudences slender body, Audie said to Prudence, "Prue, what do you think I am afraid of?"
Prudence turned to look into Audies eyes and kissed him softly on his lips. "Audie, one cant know such things about other people. Much as I love you, you are a mystery to me, as we are all to each other."
"A complete mystery?"
Prudence took her journal from the almond-shaped almond-wood night stand that stood at her side of the bed. She turned pages, skimming until she found the entry she sought.
"Things show themselves only in the light of love. Love sees what it sees, but there is always more," she quoted. "Thats what I think. So not a complete mystery, but a mystery. I dont know what you are afraid of Audie."
"Progress comes also from love," Audie thought to himself and sighed. Prudence held him tightly in her soft embrace.
(The Fruit and Nut Line)
The almond-shaped almond-wood night stand next to Prudences side of the bed, a cherry-wood cherry-shaped night stand on Audies side, an acorn-shaped oak headboard, a walnut-shaped walnut dresser across from the bed, a hickory highboy between the arched windows overlooking the alley, and an apple tree clothes tree outside the door to the bathroom were the components of a bedroom set Audie and Prudence recently purchased from Edith.
Just before the new year, when they were deciding between the Fruit and Nut and several GeOrganics designs, Edith had told them that their set was the first of a new line of furniture inspired by developments in her spiritual awareness.
These developments were, she had explained between drags on a Special, "marked by experiences profoundly primitive in their harkening back to, indeed their reawakening of, the only truly harmonious mode of existence possible, and, at the same time, radically transcendent in their new revelation of the truth of the essential oneness of all things."
"I have come to understand," she had continued, drawing the hot smoke of her Special deep inside herself, "the descent of man in its true, original sense. The descent began much earlier than anyone else has imagined. It began with the fall, the tear, the rending, the great divide, when sheer accident, random happenstance, the metaphorical toss of cosmic dice, created the first animal. One cell only, a modest beginning. An inauspicious beginning. Who, if were possible for there to have been a who on the scene, could have imagined the consequences. More cells. More animals. Differentiation. Specialization. Diversity of species. Until, finally, Homo sapien sapiens, whose only real knowledge is knowledge of what they have lost. We cannot return. Once fallen, we can never truly rise again. The perfect state of Euglena gracilis is forever lost to us. The only way is forward, and that forward is a return to, I offer you this happy pun, our roots. Forest living. Form follows essence. That is the beginning of the return. Furniture whose appearance reflects its essence. Pear-shaped pear-wood coffee tables. Pine-coned shaped pine tables. Peach-shaped peach end tables. I havent envisioned couches and chairs yet. No matter. The F & N line is a only a symbolic transition, a stage in our return. My next creation is the true herald of the New Age. A revolution in our ontological constitution awaits only negotiations with my suppliers. Live furniture. Hollow trees for dressers. Verdant shrubs for couches. Mattresses of meadow flowers. The real thing, right in your home. The Absolute."
Streams of white smoke shot from her nostrils and bounced off the stucco surface of the kitchen table as Edith spoke the words, "the Absolute." She pulled another Special from a cigarette case made of a tiger-striped gourd, jabbed it into her hair, and strolled to the display floor.
Floating in swirls of black and silver curls, the cigarette reminded Audie of a drowning baby or a fetish. He shivered. "I dont want to wait for that next line. It scares me," he said to Prudence.
Prudence nodded. She pulled Audies hand tight against her hip, and they hurried out of the kitchen to find Edith.
Edith was holding an oslamode vase in her outstretched arms as a tall hairy person and a lithesome young man stood transfixed by her cold blue gaze. Audie and Prudence waited as Edith explained to the men that inside the perfect cylinder of blown Venetian glass were two perforated ceramic cylinders open at the bottom, which when rotated 60 degrees east of magnetic north, captured and recycled the energy vibrations of cut flowers, allowing them to remain fresh for weeks.
The men had bought two vases, one aubergine, one solferino. They held their packages to their breasts, as if hiding secrets they wanted everyone to see.
Audie and Prudence had arranged for the Fruit and Nut set to be delivered the next day.
That night (the night of Audies question) Audie had a dream, and he recorded the dream in his book of poems.
"I am walking across a meadow. Just walking, enjoying the sun and the smell of the earth, when I fall into a hole. I fall straight down and land on my feet. Im not hurt. Its dark and kind of smelly, smelly like hot rubber or plastic. I cant see. I walk with my hands in front of me, like a sleepwalker. I see a light and walk faster. I enter a huge stone chamber bathed in a sort of peach light. Theres a magnificent throne, gold, shimmering gold, with an ornate brocade cushion, dripping with jewels. Sitting atop the throne is a huge obsidian monolith wrapped with silver wires, and dotted with tiny lights, green and red and blue. I am terrified. I want to run, but I stay. The monolith has a terrible meaning I cant fathom. Then it speaks, to me. Just to me. From somewhere inside. It doesnt move. Just as I am about to understand its words, I awake."
Audie laid his notebook and pen on the cherry-shaped cherry-wood night stand and scratched his nose. He turned to watch Prudence as she lay asleep. He smelled the faint fragrance of perspiration and olive oil from her hair. He kissed her softly on the center of her forehead, and trailed his tongue gently across her smooth skin as he spread kisses across her brow, down her left cheek to her soft lips.
Prudence awoke with a lazy smile.
"Prue, I had a dream. I know what I am afraid of, I think," Audie exclaimed.
"What I fear is not outside of myself, not stores and salesmen, not systems and blondes (well, as you know, I am a little afraid of blondes). I am afraid of myself. Yes, myself. Myself, as the philosophers say, qua self. Myself, viewed in one way as a proposition, that is, as a cogitatio, and in another as material being, that is, as, desire. Myself, en tout."
Audie stopped speaking and scrunched his eyes together. "What does that mean? How can one be afraid of oneself? How can the subject be at the same time an object to the subject? Is the self that fears the same self as the self that is feared or is it a different self? And if I am afraid of myself, am I afraid of what I am or might not be or might become or might appear to be?"
"Audie, that is a lot of questions. What do they have to do with a new system?"
Audie read the dream from his book of poems.
"In the dream, my system and I are one."
"I wish I hadnt woken up before understanding the stone."
"The psychologists say dreaming about dreams when you are awake helps you understand them."
"When you are awake?"
"Pretend you are the monolith, what would you say?"
Audie rolled away from Prudence, closed his eyes, and lay stiff and flat on the bed. He remained motionless for several minutes. His breathing became shallow and erratic.
He opened his eyes, turned to Prudence, and in a hoarse whisper, he said, "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity."
"What else could it say?" replied Prudence.
Audie stared at Prudence in puzzled awe. "You knew?" he said.
"Still, I must have a new system."
Prudence smiled, an odd sort of half smile.
Audie bowed his head, and sighed.