Writer's Notes Magazine
Is a rebel son just his father's mutated clone?
Citizen in America
In war, maybe everybody gets wounded.
Jerusalem Post Literary Quarterly, 2004
A small nourishment against terror.
Jerusalem Post, 2002
There's one on every plane. A sketch from life.
Potpourri Magazine, 1997
Where's Love when Life and Art are fighting?
The Permanent Press, 1997
A raunchy and partly comic love story set on a country commune - a place lacking conventional boundaries - and probably the most loving and authentic portrayal of Sixties communal life in American fiction.
Arc Magazine, -0001
Love is a world-wide web where your soul-mate hides from you.
The Permanent Press, 1996
A biting portrait of a marriage and stepfamily that is coming apart, while its deeper theme is the daunting task of truly marrying oneself and the life one has made.
Redemption was at hand... The Messiah's enemies whispered of orgies and free love.
Bright Idea Books, 1997
Twelve stories about people who are either frantically searching for their true selves or who know themselves too well and wish they could escape.
Where's Love when Life and Art are fighting?
Gauguin worked in a bank, a teller of no tales. A starchy collar chafed his neck, the cuffs of his suit coat were worn shiny from sliding papers across the counter and a string of luncheon meat was lodged between two teeth but there was none to help him remove it. What does a man think of among the credits and the debits? Gauguin thought of love.
Gauguin was a bourgeois. Though he felt a fear of personal eclipse under the vaulted high ceiling of the bank, he planned his ascent on the executive ladder: Someday he would complete forms of a different color. The plans of the bourgeoisie, who can fathom them? But a plan is not the same as a dream. When Gauguin dreamt in his teller's cage, he dreamt of love and a round life-a woman, their children, family happiness.
There was a certain woman, Emma by name, a customer of the bank, over whom Gauguin suffered a shy infatuation. Sometimes, only sometimes, she transacted her business at his window. When she approached, he nodded to her; in the passing of paper, he tried to touch her fingertips; as she departed he watched her move beneath her skirt. When she was gone, he searched her signature for meanings. She used in her pen ink the color of her eyes, a coral green. Something loose in her handwriting shaded also the corners of her mouth. Her face was full of appetites, he thought one day, thrilling himself. She became in his dream the center light.
One Sunday afternoon he chanced to spy her through the glass panels of the revolving door at the entrance to the Musée des Beaux Arts. She was coming out, he was going in. She wiggled her fingers in greeting to him and waited outside while he made a circuit in the door and joined her on the sidewalk.
"Mademoiselle," he said, lumpy with shyness, "it is my pleasure to encounter you today."
"And you, Monsieur," she replied, inclining her head, "I am glad to discover that the bars of your teller's cage do not cast stripes permanently upon your face." The day, a sunny blue, was composed with tourists and lovers and old ladies, and beyond the red tile roofs of the town were green hillsides, and spring waved her scented handkerchief in the air. Unhesitatingly choosing life over art, Gauguin suggested a promenade, and inspired by her grin offered his arm and led her down the street toward some cafe au lait.
Olé! He sat at last across a table from her. At that time Gauguin had a small mustache. He was very kind but hardly ever smiled. He asked Emma questions and listened to her voice.
Flattered by this compliment greater than flowers, Emma confided in him. "I am a rebel against bourgeois values," she said. "I smoke, I drink, and I shake hands with men." Gauguin read her face with nervous eyes. "I am an artist," she told him, "a writer of stories. I have my own work. I do what I choose."
"You must be very happy," he said.
"Ah, no," she admitted. "I am unsatisfied. I have longings I do not understand. I suffer headaches and attacks of anxiety or sudden euphorias. Some hunger eats me from within, and though I eat the world, my hunger is increased."
Gauguin took these confidences as a greater compliment than kisses and stared at Emma's mouth, which had slackened as she spoke of her hunger. In her lips he recognized changing sea-shapes. Her upper lip was like two tadpoles butting heads; their tails curled to the corners of her mouth. No, that smooth tapering was the edge of oyster shells, or else her lips were little waves or paintings of waves crooked like little fingers. When at last he touched her hand, her fingers seemed to him as if fish swam in them, their tails trembling in the current of her blood. She made him think of mermaids, beings trapped in two worlds. A great ocean of longing surged in Gauguin's heart. "You are my sister," he murmured to her, looking into the green sea of her eyes. "Let me try to feed you."
"Will I have ink and paper?" she asked, more practical.
"I have good prospects," he said simply.
"And what must I bring?" she asked.
Gauguin thought. "The evening meal prepared," he said. "Your sympathies and help. Our family."
The clatter of the restaurant was stilled for a moment, and they both could hear the beating of great wings and the rushing sea-sound of eternity. For the first time, Gauguin smiled. "I'm having fun," he said.
Preceding him out of the restaurant, Emma passed a hand over hip and buttock, smoothing her skirt. Gauguin was in love; he sighed.
They took a flat and called themselves married, sanctified by a private vocabulary and the fragrance of one another's flesh. Each morning Gauguin went to work at the bank and Emma remained home to write. In the early evening there was dinner; later in the evening there was bed. Emma knew the secret of preventing conception by means of certain unguents used internally. Gauguin got his promotion at the bank and grew a beard. They were happy. A year passed.
They celebrated their first anniversary in bed, sitting naked without touching, their loins spread to each other, willing to be held in that delicate tension. From the bedroom window they could see the green hills in the distance.
Gauguin had brought two glasses and a bottle of champagne. Emma had a little gift-wrapped box. "For you," she said. "From the museum."
He unwrapped it: a set of watercolors. He laughed at her. "I am a banker, not an artist," he told her. In the growth of his beard, his smile now had a richness to it. "You are the artist."
She agreed. "Yet I know art has its consolations for you, too," she said demurely.
"Ah, yes," he remembered, "but I did not go in. Fate brought me there only to find you." He worked the cork until it exploded. They lifted glasses to one another and drank, and then Gauguin's eyes went serious and he said, carefully not touching her as they sat naked, "I think it is time for us to have a child. Do you agree?"
Her eyes slid away from him for a moment.
"It is a year now," he went on. "I think we are ready."
Fish swam beneath the surface of her face. "I cannot be a bourgeois housewife," she said softly. "I have my work."
"Yes, of course," he replied, not understanding. "I have mine too. Now is it not time for us to begin the work we have together?"
She touched his cheek. "I have my work," she repeated. "We have each other."
"But our children-" he began, and then stopped. Looking back, he realized that he had never actually contracted his dream with her. He had assumed their love itself was notary to what he had not fully spoken. It occurred to him now that his dream might not come true. That plans might fail, he understood; he had not suspected it of dreams. "Don't you want our children?" he asked.
She met his eyes but said nothing.
"And what if you were to conceive despite your unguents?" he pressed her.
"There are other unguents," she said darkly.
On the green hillside, choirs of trees moaned in the wind.
He lay down like a sick man. "I cannot stay here if we have no child," he told her, shading his eyes.
"Sometimes I think I look like you," she whispered to him. She rested her fingers lightly on his ribs. "Your face is more familiar to me than my own. If you leave me, I will not recognize myself."
He understood that she was pleading with him. In her eyes he saw his reflection waver like an image in water. He had expected plenty; she offered him hunger. He saw in her eyes his own death. "I hate your hunger," he told her in a low voice, knowing he could not leave.
That night, Gauguin dreamt. A pipe had broken in the bedroom wall, causing a flood. He called a plumber but a doctor came instead, carrying tools in a leather case. "Ah, yes, I see the difficulty," the doctor said, and he hammered the metal pipe closed at its end. But after the doctor was gone, the water continued to rise in the room. Something in the dream was painful-the noise of the hammer on steel? Waking, Gauguin sat up with a hurt in his belly. Beside him, Emma slept. Even in sleep her mouth expressed its appetites. Returning to the warmth of her, he clung all night to keep himself from drowning.
Out of his dream sprouted physical ailments. Gauguin's stomach grew sensitive; the evening meal became a trial for him. Worse, he felt his eyes were growing dim. He wept for himself. Distracted by mourning, he developed the habit, at home and at the bank, of emptying the contents of his wallet onto the table in front of him, to pore through the cards and papers, unfolding and arranging them like a man searching for a lost address. He had to hold the writing near his eyes to read it. Emma insisted on doctors, who prescribed spectacles and elixirs, but nothing helped. Gauguin spoke even less than before and did not listen; a stillness entered their lives. When his lovemaking, which had always before been tender, grew mean and then ceased altogether, Emma became shrill.
"I don't understand what is wrong!" she cried at last. "What do you want? Is it only to have a child? Let us do it now, if that will return you to me. I cannot bear this loneliness." And she wept.
"No, no," Gauguin murmured distractedly, "that isn't it." Weakened by illness, he peered around the room. "It's the light," he told her. "The light is not right in here." He clicked all the lamps on, bent like an old man.
Amid the solemn hush and clatter of the bank, too, Gauguin complained about the light. The straight bars of the teller's cage, the lines of waiting customers, the rows of desks and files-these hurt his eyes, he said, he could no longer bear them because the light was wrong.
Another year passed.
One evening Gauguin wandered off his usual way home from work till he came again to the entrance of the Musée des Beaux Arts and went in. He peered with difficulty into the canvases, as if searching for something, but it was no good. Even here the light was wrong. He trudged across the lobby to the door and was pushing against the glass panel when he glimpsed the bright display of the museum boutique. He made a circuit in the revolving door and like a sleepwalker moved back across the lobby toward what he had seen.
It was a lamp, a simple lamp of the genus swan. But this swan's neck was a curved woman's neck, its head turned coyly away from him. For the second time in his life, Gauguin fell in love. He felt absently in his pockets. He swallowed and asked to touch. Permitted, he stroked the lamp's long neck, he peeked under its bonnet of stained-glass at the white globe of the light. Can a man fall in love with the source of the light? Gauguin paid cash and hurried home.
"I must begin," he told Emma, refusing the evening meal. He set his lamp on a table across the room from hers and rummaged to find the set of paints she had given him.
Now when Emma stayed awake half the night inventing fictions, Gauguin worked next to her. His fear of blindness disappeared; his vision returned and with it some gladness.
This healing did not depend on Emma. Once he had been happy or cast down because of her. Now he was satisfied with her presence, and the tone of the silence between them changed as they worked side by side. They shared the evening meal once again; once again his caress grew tender. And yet even when they embraced, somehow his touch seemed far away. One evening, with a timidity she did not recognize in herself, she asked him at last, "Please-are we wife and husband?"
He looked into her eyes. "We are artists," he said. "Yes," he reassured her, "we are married." His attention swung back to his drawing board again.
His paintings were awful ugly things: He had no idea yet how to use the brushes and color. But as he worked, he felt his hunger grow for the images that swam below the dark square surface of his desk, for the round, soft shapes that interrupted him at his work under the bank's high ceiling-dark women, harvests of ripe fruit, long beaches in a sea of coral green.
Having no skill to reproduce these images, his mind and memory were filled with what he could not touch. His visions became a source of suffering to which each day a greater hunger drew him back. He said to himself, It is only out of my disappointment and my broken dream that I conjure these pictures out of the sea.
But when he shut the lamp and put his paints away, a hunger so fierce assailed him that he knew he suffered now for his dreams more than he had before, when he was blind, or even before that, in the time of his loneliness. He thought sometimes to run away-But a man, he told himself, is not a bird or beast to escape his suffering by flight. And there was Emma, still beautiful to him, his partner, at her table across the room. So he stayed and worked in the small light he had found for himself.
It took many years before the harsh sea of his hunger smashed into final sand his young man's dream of a round, simple life. But out of that sand, like an exotic tree, Gauguin the artist grew, his hands unfit for other work. Too late, Emma bore children to him, two daughters and a son. They were only a distraction now, and Gauguin saw finally that he had been wrong: Not only may a man flee suffering, he may even take with him to his new home a good light from a former time.
First place winner, annual Herman F. Swafford Fiction Award, Potpourri Magazine, 1998. From "Time of Wandering," privately published / Bright Idea Books, 1996.
From David Margolis
My interests as a fiction writer were partly determined by having come of age in the Sixties: wandering, escape, ecstatic experience, disappointment, the search for community, how men and women make each other crazy. Such diverse concerns demand varying voices for their expression, as the reader will find out.
I began my writing career as a poet and learned much of what I know about writing prose from reading poetry.
As a consequence, two things power my experience of writing: the dreadful pleasure of shaping language until it teaches me what I want to say, and my private struggle between the poet's work of opening up any moment like a flower and the fiction writer's work of getting on with the story.