Gordon Hughes

Part One – New Jersey, 1979

Chapter 1 

There is no quiet, no peace—only the sound of the city crying.  Crying for those who died too soon.  Crying for those who haven’t died soon enough.  Gordon Hughes lay in his virulent bed listening.

Through his window, the New Jersey Turnpike tortured his mind with its incessant screaming—the living dead in their cars, howling through the early morning rush.  Vacuous souls trapped in an unrepentant purgatory, driven by some primal reflex to sustain life.  For what purpose? 

He lay as still as possible, trying not to think about getting up and facing another day at his miserable job.  There was so much more he wanted to do with his life, yet he remained frozen—hung in the balance of the charged elements pulling at him from every direction.  Ellen and an impending marriage.  Finishing his college degree.  Living a bohemian life in the Village.  Or maybe there was more he still needed to discover—out on the road like his idols Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.  How did they do it—break free from the clutches of responsibility? Simply live.  Without the pressure to conform.

He rolled onto his side and stared across the room.  There, cast in a yellow streetlight haze, was his typewriter and the half-written letter—his escape hatch.  He hadn’t dared to finish it last night in his foul mood.  Now, there it was, dangling the promise of freedom before his eyes.

Dear Ellen,

You won’t understand at first why I have to do what I’m doing, but I hope you eventually will.  Please forgive me. I don’t think I can live any longer the way I have been, and it wouldn’t be fair to you if I wasn’t honest.  I love you, but I’m going to go away for a while.  I can’t tell you where, because I’m not quite sure myself.  But by the time you get this, I will be

Where? Wandering the country with his rucksack on some mad Kerouac adventure?  Sleeping under the stars?  Making love to countless nameless girls in the backs of buses?  Discovering the true America alone on top of pristine mountains?  Desolately drinking his life away in Denver saloons? 

It was a seductive image compared to the crisp corporate life that lay ahead as husband of Ellen Bloom.  Life in Ellen’s world would be trim and pressed and clean-shaven.  So shiny and … antiseptic.  Not a place for a living, breathing human like Gordon Hughes. If only she could understand.

He closed his eyes and thought about his terrible fight with her the day before.  Everything had started out so perfectly: a picnic up at Bear Mountain on a glorious spring day.

The forest was brimming with new growth.  Underfoot, the ground was still spongy from the recent thaw and the air had a crisp edge as the morning sun stretched its fingers through the leafy canopy.  The couple leisurely hiked along, holding hands and following the wooded trails wherever they led.  At one point, they stopped at a rock ledge and looked out over the valley: a verdant landscape in rich pastels draping the fields and valleys below.  He said to her that if he were an artist he’d paint that picture just for her and hang it in some gallery in SoHo, or maybe at MOMA—some cool place like that.  Someplace where the whole world would know just what he was feeling that moment.  She laughed and said she wasn’t sure she would want her feelings hanging on a wall in front of thousands of people.

He wondered for a moment what her feelings were.  He was at once enamored and frustrated by Ellen, whose drive toward completing her education and climbing the rungs of business he could not understand.  For what purpose?

He took her hand and the couple continued up the path.

“I wish we could enjoy this without the cloud of another Monday hanging over us,” he said, stepping over a dead log.

“Oh Gordon, you always act as though going to work each day is the worst horror.”

“It is.”

“Only if you make it that way.”

“It just seems, I don’t know, so meaningless.”

“I know you’re not happy right now, but things will get better.  Just wait.”  She turned to him and took his other hand.  “It’s such a beautiful day.  Why don’t we just enjoy it?”

Near the summit, they stopped at a sheltered cluster of rocks for lunch.  Ellen opened her backpack and laid out a small blanket. Then she pulled out chicken and rolls, grapes, cheese, wine—all the ingredients for a perfect, romantic picnic—and set them one by one on the blanket.

“This is beautiful,” he said, sitting cross-legged at one corner of the blanket.  “I guess you were right—we should just enjoy the day.”

He reached into the backpack and pulled out two plastic cups.  He uncorked the wine and poured some for both of them.  Then he leaned on his side, sipping the wine and munching on cheese and grapes.

“Chicken?”  She held up the plastic bag she had packed.

He pulled out a leg, took a big bite, and washed it down with a gulp of wine.  He topped off his cup and passed the bottle to her.

“This is great, El, really great,” he said, leaning on his elbow and looking at her. She sat cross-legged, her auburn hair shimmering in the sun and framing her sculpted face and full lips.

The woods had such a divine smell—damp and green and rich—like Eden.  He pictured the two of them lying there naked.

“Let’s stay here for a while,” he said.  “We’re in no hurry, are we?”

“I suppose we could.  You want any more to eat?”

“No, I’m good.  Everything was delicious. Let’s just clean up a bit and relax with the wine.”

She smiled.  “Are you sure it’s only the wine you want?” She stuffed the remaining items into the backpack.  Then she poured some wine into her cup, lay back against the bag, and looked up into the trees.

They clasped hands.

“I love the color of the leaves this time of year,” he said. “Kind of green, but still a little yellowish.  It’s like you can see their hopeful youth.”

“That’s very poetic,” she said.

“Remember those poems I used to write for you when we first started dating?”

“You were very sweet. I think my uncle’s class must have worn off on you after all.”

“Hardly.  But I know how much you love that sort of thing.”

He turned on his side and stroked the side of her cheek.

“I’d love it if you wrote some more,” she said.

“I think about it sometimes. It’s hard right now. So much going on.”

“Maybe you’ll get inspired up at the Cape next month.  Perhaps I could inspire you.” She nudged closer.

“Perhaps.”  He reached across to the top button of her blouse.

“I thought you wanted to relax.”

"I always find your breasts very relaxing."

She set down her wine as he unbuttoned her blouse.  Then she helped him pull the tail of the blouse out of her shorts, making it easier for him to reach around to unclasp her brassiere.  She somehow worked the bra through her arms like a parlor trick, without so much as ruffling her blouse, and tossed it into the backpack.

“Isn’t this nice?” he said, reaching over and caressing an exposed nipple.

She closed her eyes and smiled.

                                                                                                                                        © James H. Gamble 2014