The Silver Gate
He knew that Angeles had written to him. He also knew that she would claim she had written to many more than just himself but he ignored that knowledge. She wrote to him to tell him it was okay to make the journey. Sitting at his keyboard, he needed that knowledge.This morning, looking in the mirror, he no longer recognized the face that stared back, lined, grayed, defeated. Where were the thrusting chin, the Victorian sideburns, the confrontational eyes? Why had they snuck off into the night without so much as a farewell note?
He missed her. Tallie, who was never his, had always been there by his side but no longer. Weeks now, she had gone, yanked from his life by a blown tire. Vitalia of the chestnut hair, the cornflower eyes, who stood to his chin but whose reach far exceeded his own.
Weeks gone but he had not removed the bits and pieces that belonged to her from the master bath, from the walk-in closet, from the bedroom bookshelf, her bookshelf. Here, in his office, the plant she placed here, broadcasting its death throes with browns and blacks. He never watered plants; Talia did.
Memory surrounded him.
Tallie taught him you don’t own people. They can choose to be with you or choose not to be. Their choice, always, every day. Be grateful; accept the compliment; enjoy the result but never get so proud of their presence that you believe it is your right; that they are yours now and forever, amen. Just be someone they want to be around.
Now, he was to it, where he wanted to be, at his keyboard, ready for the journey. Be someone they want to be around. Tallie chose to be around him. Why? Who was he?
“Name?” The gnome stood there, expectant, his head cocked so that his red-rust hat pointed at right angles to the conversation.
“Conner; Kaimi Conner.”
The gnome wrote something into the massive journal resting on a stand before him. Watching the process, Kaimi wondered how it is that gnomes and dwarves and elves, when entering items into journals, always seem to be about half way through the book. Why are they never just beginning a new one or near to completing an old one? They are always somewhere in the middle.
Finishing his entry, the gnome peered up at Conner through half-inch spectacles. In a voice as raspy as the desert floor mismatched by an overtone of empathic concern, the gnome asked: “Be it fair assumption, then, that the likes of you would know where you are?”
Looking around to confirm the answer he wanted to give, Conner took in the massive gate before him, silver-hued, shining promisingly in an otherwise murky morning light. The scent of dew dampened shrubbery provided a calming effect to the anticipation aspirants at the gate should normally experience. “I’m at the first gate,” Conner answered.
“That you are,” the gnome said. “Be you prepared, then, to make your passage?”
“I believe that I am but how should I know for certain?”
Conner watched a frown take the gnome’s face and braced himself for the explosion all the lore insists must accompany such a glowering countenance on a gnome. It didn’t come. Instead, the frown yielded to a curiosity that came out as: “What be you expecting, then? A guided tour? You think my role here is to be your personal encyclopedia?”
“I thought your role was to introduce travelers to the gates. Isn’t that why you’re carrying that key ring?”
The gnome looked at the key ring in question, considered it for a moment, then laughed. “Angeles should have been more clear, then. It’s not my place to open doors and guide you through. Passage is yours to make or not as you find it meet. You ask for a key, I’ll pass what I have to you. From there, it’s on your shoulders.”
Conner considered the answer. He thought he knew what he wanted to do; why he was here in the first place. Instead of debating with himself, he opted to plunge. “I’m looking for a purpose,” he told the gnome, half expecting a sarcastic smile to greet his assertion. In its place, the gnome looked thoughtful. Reaching an unannounced conclusion he took his key ring, fiddling with the keys until he found the one he sought, a deep platinum ring that he removed from the ring. His right arm extended, hand palm up, key resting on the palm. “This is the one for you, then, Kaimi Conner.” When Conner took the key, the gnome concentrated on returning his key ring to its accustomed carrying place while Conner examined the ring.
“It ought to have some inscription,” Conner thought. In answer to his thought, lettering shimmered into place on the key’s bow, “citatus” now present for his inspection. He read the letters, pronounced the word aloud as “site-ATE-us” and then as “SITE-uh-tuss” and finally as “sigh-duh-TWOs” None inspired him to comprehension of the word’s meaning.
“Don’t ask, then,” the gnome said before Conner might attempt the question. “Not my job, remember?”
“Then, I am not to know what it means?”
“Oh, it’ll come to you, lad; it always does.”
Conner accepted that at face value. From what Angeles had said, this fit. Looking up from the key, he watched the gnome perform a sweeping bow, hand traveling from the tip of his felt hat to the toes of his green boots. “Best get on with it, then,” the gnome grinned.
How you approach silver gates depends upon your state of mind. That was Kaimi’s conclusion as he accepted the gnome’s invitation. “Is inquisitiveness a state of mind or must a state of mind be something more emotional?” he asked himself. “ I am curious to see what’s on the other side. Perhaps, I shouldn’t be. Perhaps I should be more concerned with what’s going on in me. Here I am beginning a journey. Am I hopeful or apprehensive? Am I glad to be here or wishing that I had put this off for another time? What am I feeling?”
His footsteps brought him to the gate proper. At this range, the ruffles and flourishes of the gate’s etchings were more distinct but no more intelligible than they had been from afar. It was awe inspiring sculpture that conveyed nothing more comprehensible than the feeling of awe. “Richard Strauss, where are you?” Conner thought, imagining musical accompaniment to the sculpture. He was immediately surrounded by stereo trumpets: “dah….DAH ….DAH…da-DAH…: “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. Put the Berlin Philharmonic to rest…, please!” The composition faded even as it began its second rise.
The gate arms, a matched pair, consisted of base and two horizontal stabilizers while the vertical spears rose from base through each stabilizer to a meter above the top support terminating in fluted spikes. They appeared fashioned from the same metal as the frame. Centered , as if at the joining of the arms, was a keyhole into which Conner inserted his key and turned it clockwise.
Tumblers rolled and clicked; the gate arms separated allowing Conner to step into the gate.
The old man, black as night, hair and brows that might well have been nothing more than frost, face scrinched up in concentration, his arms wrapped around his knees, sat in a bean bag chair on a rug that looked like a cloud, cirrus and flimsy. He didn’t appear concerned. Kaimi Conner sat in another bean bag on another cloud a few meters from and facing the man. He was close enough to the man to get the full advantage of the Cuban the man was thoroughly enjoying.
“If you could do anything you wanted to do, anything at all, what would that be?” the man asked. Having put the question into the air between them, he took another long, loving look at his cigar; then, dragged deeply from the artifact, the smoke filling his lungs. Letting it out in an equally slow exhale, the man smiled, enormously proud of his accomplishment.
Conner, meanwhile, considered the question. “Do you mean right now or tomorrow or for the rest of my life or what?”
“”Fraid you got that wrong, Kaimi. Not what I mean; what you mean. This ain’t about me.”
“This gonna be another of your books, Bill?”
The man named Bill laughed appreciatively. “Nope, no way. This is your fantasy; not mine.”
“I thought I was passing through the Silver Gate,” Conner said.
“Don’t go getting’ your britches in a uproar, Kaimi. You know what you’re doing. I’m just here for the icing on the cake.”
“Passing through, then;” Conner said, “I’m still passing through.”
Bill smiled but his retort had an edge to it: “That ain’t the answer I was after an’ you know it.”
“Okay, then, what I want to do right now,” and now Conner smiled as he realized what his answer was going to be,” is pass through this gate. Now, that means learning some things about myself but that applies to all the gates; they’ll all teach me something about myself.”
He raised a hand to forestall what he thought he knew Bill was going to say. “Just smoke that cigar for a minute. I’ll get this done sooner or later.”
Bill nodded acceptance of Conner’s request.
“I been a lot of things in my life, you know? Some I was good at; some I wasn’t. But I don’t know that any of those things was me. In fact, I don’t know that I can tell you what I am or what I wanted to be or what I want to be now.”
“That wasn’t the question. Didn’t ask you what you did or who you was; asked what you want to do?”
The answer came much faster than Conner expected. When it did come, he shocked himself with its intensity; with the agony lying just below the surface. “I want to find out who I am.,” he said.
“How you going to do that?” Bill asked.
“That’s the part I don’t know,” Conner admitted. “That’s why I wanted to go through these gates, to see if that would help me find an answer.”
Bill took another long drag on his cigar, the time afforded allowing Conner to think on what he’d just said. He wanted to find out who he was, not what he was, what he’d done for a living, what he was going to do to pass the time without Tallie. He wanted to finally, once and for all, figure out who he is. Maybe, then, he’d understand why Tallie had loved him.
“What you doin’ now?” Bill asked.
“I’m sitting here talking to you,” Conner answered.
“No, you ain’t and you know you ain’t. What you doin’ now?”
It took Conner a minute to understand the question. When he did he answered: “I’m typing this conversation into my PC,”
“Yep, you are. How’s that feel?”
“It feels…right,” Conner said surprising himself by his choice of adjective.
“So, you gonna write; that’s pretty much clear; ain’t it? What you want to do and what you’re gonna do is write. Now, all you got to decide is what you’re gonna write about. You got any particular ideas ‘bout that?”
It was a good question. Up till now his writing had been work-related. Well, he’d written three or four short stories but they were pretty bad and he hadn’t shown them to anyone. If he was going to discover who he was by writing, then what would he write?
“A fantasy, of course,” Conner laughed. “How else am I gong to sneak up on me without me knowing it?’
“You think you gotta sneak up on you, eh?”
“The head on approach hasn’t been real successful. I still don’t have any answers.”
“What’s your plan? You been a manager long enough to know you got to have a plan.”
Unfair question was Conner’s first thought. His second thought was only slightly more positive, He had to wait for his third thought to realize Bill was making sense. To put him off a bit, Conner offered: “I’m going to write, today, every day.”
“And you’re gonna exercise an hour a day an’ you’re gonna take the dog on long walks and you’re gonna swear off banana splits. There’s a old army comment for such rot: bullshit!” Bill was feeling pretty smug with that comment. He looked at his cigar as if he had just earned another drag. Agreeing with himself that he had earned it, he promptly took one.
Conner admitted to himself Bill had nailed it. As a plan, writing every day was so much smoke. Inspiration suddenly struck. “Yeah, you’re right, Bill, but here’s a plan that can work. I’m going to write down a list of questions that I wonder about myself and then I’m going to write stories that deal with those questions. That way, I’ll get past my walls without me ever suspecting what I’m up to.”
Bill took the time to exhale his last drag. Maybe he was just thinking about what Conner had said; maybe he was stalling to let Conner reach his own conclusions. Conner decided it must have been the former because Bill was not bashful in asking another question. “Give me a example,” Bill said.
Playing dirty, Conner thought, but then acknowledged to himself it was a fair question. What was an example of a question about himself for which he wanted answers? The first question came immediately to mind as if it had been waiting just off stage until an opening appeared that allowed its entrance. “What do I believe in?” he announced. “That’s a question I’ve been wrestling with for a couple of years now. I still don’t have an answer. I know lots of things I don’t believe in, but the only idea I ever truly believed in was Tallie. At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself.”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Bill said. “Too bad you don’t smoke anymore, This is a damned fine Cuban.”
Then, he was gone.
The gate was behind him, closed. Apparently he’d left the key in the lock because he didn’t have it with him. Around him, the scenery looked every bit like his home, including the office and the desert outside the office window. Were he tempted to dismiss his memory of the past two hours, a sticky note danced on his screen, the electronic kind but he didn’t own that software. Investigating, he found Angeles’s advice to him repeated. “Practice, practice, practice!” the note read.
“That’s it,” he suddenly realized. “Second year Latin, 1964, ‘citatus.’ Summons. The Silver Gate is a summons, a call. What do I want to do; how am I going to do it? And practice, practice, practice.