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Bruce Robinson

Several Rooms

“No one is interested in me, for I have no interests.”
-Ford Madox Ford

Garden Party by Beppe Devalle

So, he feels at sea, no big deal he feels:  He feels at home at sea.  And hunkers his head to meet his neck and shoulders, feels sort of raunchy, a different, an out-of, sort.

In fact, he sort of feels like a beer, like sauntering into a bar downtown, sliding onto a bar stool and ordering draft.  It’ll be warm there, the room, there’s a patina of peanuts and smoke in the air, and a guy at a table is blowing up thin balloons, twisting them into cute little shapes, and handing them out to minors.

Clifford’s a mess, still in his suit that passes as business attire, and it’s wrinkled and out of place in this place.  He’d have been in baggy grey sweats and a jersey with a number on the back and a name on the front, but he hadn’t made it to the game, not a big deal but at least he’d have fit in, there’d be a gap on the long benches beside the tables where he could step over and sit down.  He looks back at himself from the mirror behind the bar and loosens his tie.


And goes over to the guys at the table, sits down, asks if they mind if he gets them a pitcher.  He tells the waitress, I don’t care, anything but light beer.” and pats his pocket for his dollar bills.  What was he thinking?  He doesn’t know, who does?

The minors are handling their beers like veterans, and they’re cuter than balloons.  One of them has seen him before, he’d been shopping and she was a clerk, and she tells him you look like you just got your hair cut.

True.  It had been easy.  He’d walked into a room, sat down in a chair, and the next thing you know Kathy turns his collar inside out and every which way. Her hand against his ear.  Close human contact.

Then there’s a voice, a phrase he’d been hearing, over and over, and suddenly he’s conscious of it.” C’mon, let’s go to the party.  Let’s go to that party. “ It’s Joe.

“No Joe, that’s beat.  You don’t wanna go to that party.”  That’s Howie.

“You win?”  Who’s that?

“No man, we got blown away.  23-8?”  Howie looks at his shortstop for confirmation of the data and a password reset.

But what catches Clifford’s eye is the second baseman, a solemn second baseperson in baggy sweatshirt and floral print jeans.  She has short dark hair, the hint of a cowlick, and an aquiline nose, and her lip is swollen, the result of an encounter with an errant pop fly.  It’s hard for her to talk; he can’t quite place her accent.  She has large front teeth.  Yes, her teeth are still intact.

He asks her what she does, and she says she wants to go into investment banking, but so does everyone else.  “I’ll probably have to go back to school, move out of state, y’know.”

Their knees are touching, but she’s moving out of state.  Still, he’d drive long distances to see her.  Cross state lines.  Does she have a boyfriend?  What kind of ring is she wearing?  Her skin is smooth.  He opens his mouth to say something and thinks better of it; now’s not the time, though time is usually now.

Their knees are still touching.  The hair at the top of his neck is rich with smoke.  What he wants to do is stroke her cheekbone with one finger but as he looks at her their eyes meet.  He thinks he sees her shudder.

“Hey, Patty, how’s the face,” the left fielder wants to know.  “You gotta be more careful out there.”

She’s upset, you can see it in her jeans.  “I know,” she says. “I don’t know how you do it, Howie.”


Someone else asks her how she feels, and she says she feels all right, the beer really helped.  Clifford downs his and looks at her.  There’s something sort of callous on her right index finger.

The left fielder had gone to Colgate.  Now he works for the legislature, Ways and Means.  This means very little to him, except that it’s like hopes and dreams, something on the radio, FM.  Something about fire is playing on the jukebox.  Something about water, something about rivers.  All the liquids run into the glass, yet the glass is not full.  There’s an itch in Clifford’s ear.  Or it’s hair.  Or both.


Howie’s talking about his running, about how obsessive it became, how he had to quit and go into Taekwondo, how once, while running, he had an out-of-the-body experience.  He looks around the table with bright, fervid eyes.  Someone says that’s great.

Pitchers are coming and going, Prozac of the Republic.  Maybe it’s light beer, hard to tell.  But the glass in his hand is empty.  The pitcher is empty.  The napkin Clifford’s been manhandling is soggy and crumpled.  There’s pizza, two large pies cut into thick slices wet with oil, mud wrestling between garlic and pepperoni — there’s always pepperoni– cheese like catenaries between table and slice.  It’s protein, he tells himself, you’ve just lost a lot of it.

“Yeah, he’s not the sort of guy to want to bring to the dance.”

That’s our guy talking.  Outside the wind is gusting, the sun is going down, just temporary, just wait.

Howie’s nodding his head in agreement to everything people say.    Joe is getting fidgety.  It’s that party, it’s time to dance.  “Joe, you can practically see the itinerary typed up in triplicate.”  Somebody, maybe Howie.  Clifford fingers his keys:  front door, $450/mo., utilities inc., VW, office, mail, a key to a lost lock he still hopes to find.  Who types in triplicate?


Across the city the car’s clutch works, the engine labors; Clifford hears the music of the gears.  The party is on the second floor of an old clapboard house overlooking the afterthought of a park.  It’s the sort of party that’s just sort of there, that just sort of happens.  He looks around like you would if you’d just entered a small dark room and there was a big light at one end, different shapes and colors talking to each other, and some kind of story but you were slow to catch on.  Everyone at the party looks like someone you might’ve shopped against at Odd-Lot, on the wall a poster about God and woman and men, and something about inventions, not very complimentary.  Well, Clifford’s car’s outside, he’s independent, he can leave.

He’s always doing this, but so are you, coming in late or in the middle of things and you spend the rest of the show or whatever trying to figure things out.  The beer is cold but it’s sour.  There’s a girl asking, “When did you lose your idealism?” who continues to talk to him as long as she can go on the attack.  There’s another girl, she has a boyfriend.  There’s another girl, Clifford looks at her and doesn’t think much.  He remembers dreaming that his car had been towed. It had been, but that was in the then, not now.

Out on the coffee table, pretzels.  Bar-b-q corn chips, pork rinds, dip, and rippling potato chips the which to dip.  Cigarettes, there are cigarettes, but dope, no dice.  There’s no broccoli in sight, it must be around here somewhere.

Across the room, Howie is explaining, “it’s not that she isn’t talented.  She’s just not a team player.”  There’s a cd player in the kitchen and discs on the dishwasher.  No, it’s true, someone’s singing about hopes and dreams.  It segues into something about sand and seashore, something about the beach, and an ocean, somewhere alongside the beach.

He wanders: Cliff looks around for something else besides pretzels.  In this room nothing happens, no market expectations are fulfilled.

The girl looking for lost principles is talking about agendas now, hers, men’s, the Dead’s.  She’s looking prettier every minute, but she thinks Clifford has a heavy case of the empties and he doesn’t know how to persuade her otherwise.  It could be true.  It’s probably true. A light sweat trickles down the back of his shirt, and the skin behind his ear’s sort of greasy where he must have rubbed it.  That haircut.  He needs another napkin, needs to look at his watch.  He pats his pocket: money, keys, cards, notes.  Where’s his phone?

Downstairs, a car, an old VW, is honking an ostinato side-drum rhythm, and some people go out to the porch to have a look. There it is its lights are flashing.  It’s pretty dark out; some clouds are still visible, but the clouds at least have somewhere else to go.  Below, in the haphazard park, there are trees, fields, pools of water.  There’s a small city, and some people in it, and mourners in the streets.  From the park, who’s in the park, the porch is full of silhouettes.  A car door slams, a truck grinds its gears up the hill.  It’s getting late, and he’s got shopping left to do.  That’s him in the mirror, yes.  Maybe he’s had too many beers, maybe he’s just wiped out from the day.

Now: now what?  Hail, night of woe and incontinence, he looks toward the window and can’t tell whether moonlight or a streetlamp is lighting up the park and the leaves paired off in twos, in trees.  It has something to do with how crowded it gets, or who gets drunk, or maybe who pairs off with whom, or what mad laughter from a multitude of dreams chooses this moment to return.

But there’s no more honking, just a canvas of darkened shapes on the porch and, here and there, hilarity.  Along the park and down the hill toward the river, the dark parked cars, and the boarded drug store: the rows of painted houses without parties and the rooms where the light changes with each chartered scene of the television.  For several seconds, in the right light at the right angle for the curve of the screen, he sees himself part of the story as it bounces off a window.  And then Clifford’s himself again, he takes a can of beer, pats his pocket, yes, his keys, and then he leaves.


About the author:
Recent work by Bruce Robinson appears or is forthcoming in Seventh Quarry, Pangyrus, Résonance, The Menteur, Main Street Rag, Connecticut River Review, Maintenant, Evening Street Review, Rattle, Spoon River, and Xavier Review.

Image: Garden Party by Beppe Devalle (1940-2013). Acrylic on canvas. 57.4 x 65.2 inches. 1965. By free license.


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