Eleanor Lerman is the author of numerous award-winning collections of poetry, short stories and novels. She is a National Book Award finalist, the recipient of the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts for poetry and the New York Foundation for the Arts for fiction.In 2016, her novel, Radiomen (The Permanent Press), was awarded the John W. Campbell Prize for the Best Book of Science Fiction. In 2018, her next novel, The Stargazer’s Embassy (Mayapple Press), received an American Fiction Award from American Book Fest. Her most recent novel, Satellite Street, was published in 2019. www.eleanorlerman.com
“Yes, it’s me,” says David Gold. “You don’t have to stare.” Rita looks down at her hands, looks off towards the snow drifts piled up against the side of Miller’s Garage and Body Shop. The brownish snow, left over from an end-of-winter storm a week ago, is turning black around the edges and beginning to take on the look of a permanent addition to the landscape. “I’m sorry,” she says. “You don’t have to be,” Gold tells her. “I didn’t say I minded it.” He smiles, but with just a corner of his mouth, as if he’s only partly letting Rita off the hook for being rude. But she thinks that might be a practiced effect: she remembers that look—knowing, ironic—from his old album covers and the jackets of his books of poetry. In those pictures, he was dark haired, dark eyed: a man with a strong, memorable face. Though he must be in his seventies now, there is still a palpable sense of presence about him, and strength, still, in his long jaw, the sharp angles of his profile. He’s wearing a watch cap and a pea coat, clothes that might be too retro cool for a man his age—if he wasn’t who he is. But being who he is, Rita can’t help wondering what he’s doing here, a few miles outside Woodstock, in Ulster County, New York, at a cold, rural crossroads that boasts only two stores: the repair shop and a bare-bones Rent-A-Center, frugally stocked with decrepit furniture and electrical appliances that look like they haven’t worked properly in years. David Gold answers her question—at least in part—while she’s still puzzling over it. He and Rita are both sitting on a bench outside the garage, but Gold suddenly stands up and peers into a dusty window behind them. “I see they’ve still got my car up on a lift,” he says. “Do you know when this place opens? They told me to be here at 8:30.” “They’re late sometimes,” Rita tells him. “But someone usually gets here by nine.” “When I saw you getting off the bus,” Gold tells her, sitting back down again. “I was hoping you worked here and could let me in. It’s getting damn cold sitting outside.” “I only come for a few hours every week to do their books, send out bills. Things like that,” Rita tells him. Gold turns to face her and with one look, seems to take her measure: he sees a thin woman in jeans and old, beat-up boots who’s also wearing a leather bomber jacket and a hand-knit wool hat with tasseled ear-flaps hanging down past her shoulders.Hmm, Rita can almost hear him think. This is the bookkeeper? I’ll bet there’s some story here. But before he can ask any questions, if he’s inclined to, the mechanic who works at the shop pulls up in his truck, climbs out and unlocks the door of the garage. Gold asks him about the car while Rita heads towards the tiny office at the far end of the floor. She takes off her hat and jacket and settles herself at the ancient desk, which is topped by a computer that looks like it’s in much the same condition as the merchandise at the Rent-A-Center next door. As she turns on the computer and waits for it to decide whether or not it wants to work today, David Gold appears at the office door. “The car’s not ready,” he tells her. Then, pointing at the phone on the desk, he asks, “Can I use that to call a taxi to take me home?” Rita says sure, and then listens to him ask the man who drives the one cab that serves the area to come pick him up at the same place he dropped him off about half an hour ago. When he’s finished, he says to Rita, “Would you do me a favor? If you have any juice with these people, see if they really can get the damn thing fixed today instead of just saying so?” “I imagine they will,” Rita tells him. “It’s the only one in the shop.” Then, making an exaggerated show of craning her neck to peer out onto the garage floor, she says, “Maybe they just want to hang onto it an extra day because it’s so cute. It sort of looks like a snow globe.” He turns around to regard the car up on the lift—some tiny, round European vehicle painted a jaunty shade of blue. It has two seats but hardly looks big enough to accommodate one adult. “I guess I should consider that some kind of insult to my manhood,” he says to Rita, “but you’re right. It does. And anyway, it really belongs to my son.” And then he’s gone. Grudgingly, the computer finally displays some program icons on its screen, and Rita is able to begin entering information into the repair shop’s ledgers. Once she gets going, it’s pretty much mindless work, which leaves her free to think about other things, and what she thinks about is David Gold. He used to be called a bard—a word that she imagines no one would use anymore without snickering. He published several volumes of poetry, all of which Rita owns, and produced even more albums of songs, which he both wrote and sang in a distinctively dark, mournful voice. She doesn’t think he has produced any new work, though, in many years—or perhaps she just hasn’t been paying attention to things like that. Eventually, her thoughts wander off to other subjects. She goes over the list in her mind of the collection of part-time jobs she has, mostly bookkeeping and data entry at various businesses and one big-box store at a regional mall, reminding herself about her schedule for the rest of the week. She doesn’t have a car—she can’t afford one—so she is bound by the schedule of buses that rattle around the roads from one small upstate town to another. She’s one of the brother—and sisterhood—of the bus; service workers and temporary typists and house cleaners and yard workers and babysitters and store clerks who wake up in the dead hours before dawn, board a bus at the edge of some rutted country road and then nod off as they are carried along, on fumes and snatches of music from the driver’s radio, from Ulster to Sullivan counties, through the hamlets of Woodstock, Shandanken, Bearsville, West Hurley, Shokan, Shady, Byrdcliffe, Zena, Phoenicia, Bethel, White Lake, Willow, Mt. Tremper, Boiceville, and Saugerties, some traveling as far as Kingston, a larger city, once the capital of New York State. They all know each other well—not by name, but by the stop they have to get off—and will wake each other if they are still dozing when they near their different destinations. She’s done with her work at four o’clock, and leaves on the dot because otherwise, she will miss the next bus going in her direction. If she doesn’t catch that one, she’ll be waiting an hour in the cold for the one after that to come along. The clocks have already sprung forward, so a warmer season should be on its way, but not quite yet. Spring seems reluctant to makes its appearance this year in upstate New York. She’s waiting at the crossroads, looking in the direction that the bus will come from, when she hears a car horn honking. It honks twice--squeaks, might be a better word—before it occurs to her that someone might be trying to get her attention. When she turns around, she sees David Gold’s little blue car stopped at the corner, behind her. Apparently, whatever was wrong with it has finally been repaired. As she walks towards the car, Gold rolls down the window. “Listen,” he says, “if you’re not going too far, I could give you a lift.” “I live in Woodstock,” she tells him. “On Mill Hill Road.” “Right near me,” he says. “Hop in.” And then he smiles; a real smile this time. “I mean, if you aren’t embarrassed to be seen in this thing.” He has Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes on the CD player, with the volume turned up high, so there isn’t a lot of opportunity for small talk. As they drive along, Rita watches the familiar scenery roll by—the snowy mountains, bare woodlands, icy creeks and patchy meadows—until they’re about half a mile from Woodstock. She’s about to give him directions to her house but he seems to know where he’s going. He turns down her road and drives her straight to the edge of the yard in front of her house. Not much bigger than a trailer, really, the house is gray-shingled and boxy, lonely on its quarter-acre, perhaps, with no trees or plantings around it, but Rita is always happy to see it, and she hopes that the house feels the same way about her. She is forty-two years old and has been paying the mortgage and taxes on this little house for tend years; she has twenty more to go before she owns it. That’s one of the purposes that her collection of jobs serves: they keep her in this house, a place that suits her. She sits on her back porch sometimes, looking off at the mountains and the gray-blue sky and feels okay. For a long time she didn’t, but she does now. Not great, but okay, and how much can you ask for, really? She also has good friends here; odd, humorous people who are struggling, just as she is, to stay afloat in an economy that mostly rolls along without them. But no one seems to have given up; no one lets things get too grim. On her kitchen table, for example, there’s an invitation to a party; a card with a silly drawing of a cat playing with a balloon, and balloony-looking words spelling out, “Come to My Birthday Party!” The birthday boy, a guitar maker with a small shop in town, has crossed out the word “Birthday,” and written in something else, so the card now reads, “Come to My Pot Party!” And he’s drawn quite a large joint extending from between the digits of one of the cat’s paws. When he stops the car in front of Rita’s house, David Gold also turns off the music. “Did you know we’re neighbors?” he says to Rita. “If you follow the path that runs through the woods behind your house, you’ll end up in my backyard.” “I thought that house was empty,” Rita tells him. “I’m sneaky,” Gold tells her. “I can get in and out of town like the invisible man.” “That’s a line from one of your poems.” “Yes. It is. Everyone else would have said, from one of my songs.” “How bad are you going to feel if I tell you I liked your poetry better?” “You didn’t like my music?” Gold asks. “I loved your music,” Rita tells him as she gets out of the car. “I still do.”
A few days later, late on Saturday afternoon, just as she’s walking in the front door after spending six hours at the one job she has in town—part-time at the counter of the pet store—Rita’s phone rings. It’s David Gold, and he has a question. “Do you know how to cook an eggplant?” he asks. “I don’t know how to cook much of anything, really,” Rita tells him. “I thought all Jewish girls knew how to cook,” he replies. She thinks it’s a nice touch that he’s calling her a girl. “How do you know I’m Jewish?” she asks him. “A Gold knows a Levy,” he says. “Your name is on the mailbox. I took note when I dropped you off the other day.” I took note. She likes that, too. “Are you absolutely in the mood for eggplant? Because I can’t help you there but I do know how to make spaghetti,” she tells him. “Not fancy, but tasty.” “Come over then,” he says. “And I hope you can bring the spaghetti with you? I have cake here, and wine—and the eggplant, of course—but not much else. Rita gets out a big tote bag and packs it with a pot, a strainer, spaghetti, olive oil, some garlic, some cheese and bread, and even throws in knives and forks, just in case. He’s an old man living in a house with just cake and wine. That also sounds like a poem he might have written, but it may not bode well for preparing dinner. She takes the path that Gold had mentioned, which she has walked before. There is a pond in the woods, fed by a millstream, and as spring approaches, it’s a pretty spot, attracting the first robins and other migratory birds to its reedy shore. This evening, though, there is still some ice in the water and the air is cold, so Rita walks quickly, head down as she braves the westerly wind. Arriving at Gold’s house, a dormered cape not that much larger than her own, Rita finds the back door open. She knocks, but then walks in, passing through the kitchen into the living room, which is lamp-lit and warmed by a wood stove. The room is lined with crowded bookshelves, but dominated by music: there are two guitars leaning against a wall and more shelves holding vinyl records and stacks of CDs. Something is playing on the stereo, though Rita can’t identify what it is: a stringed instrument perhaps, accompanied by echoing gongs, all sounding like their music is drifting into the house from someplace far away. And to Rita’s surprise, there are actually two people in the room: David Gold is sitting on the couch, a comfortable-looking piece of furniture covered with a green and gray blanket stitched with a country motif of bears and pine trees. Near him, perched on a wooden stool, is a small, elderly Japanese man dressed in the saffron-colored robes of a Buddhist monk. Gold looks old and dreamy, as if he’s been lost in the music and is having a hard time finding his way back, but the monk is beaming. He has a smile on his face that looks like it makes regular appearances for no reason other than an overflow of some deep wellspring of pure joy. When he finally focuses on Rita, Gold stands up, takes the tote bag from her hand and helps her off with her jacket. “This is my neighbor,” he says to the monk. “Miss Levy.” “Rita, please,” Rita says. The monk nods, still smiling. “That’s Eggo,” Gold tells Rita. “Ha, ha!” The monk laughs heartily. “Egyō,” he says, pronouncing his name in a way that Rita knows she will never be able to repeat “He showed up yesterday,” Gold says. “He insists that he walked here all the way from Mount Baldy.” “In California?” Rita says. “Really?” “Well, ‘really.’ Now there’s a word we have a little trouble with, Eggo and me,” says Gold. Then he corrects himself, since he is apparently finished joking for now. “Egyō.” The monk has another good laugh but makes no further comment. Gold also seems to have nothing else to say on the subject—he simply heads off to the kitchen, gesturing for Rita to follow him. “Come on,” he says. “Let’s make dinner.” Leaving the monk in the living room, Gold begins opening drawers and cabinets, producing the necessary pots and utensils for preparing a meal, which makes Rita feel a little embarrassed that she thought he’d be so ill-equipped. Gold, however, doesn’t appear to notice: he still seems to be in a kind of dreamy state, humming to himself, smiling at nothing. Thinking to catch his attention, Rita says, “This is a nice house. How long have you had it?” “Oh God,” says Gold. “Since the sixties, I guess. I wrote a lot of poetry here. A lot of songs. Though actually, I was in New York more than I was here.” “At the Chelsea Hotel,” Rita guesses. Though it’s not a guess, really; he’s written about living at the hotel many times, over many years. “Yes,” Gold agrees. “All roads lead to The Chelsea Hotel. Or led there, once.” The, unexpectedly, he reaches out pats Rita on the head, a fond gesture that he might have bestowed upon someone he’d known for years. “Are you staying here now?” Rita asks. “I mean for good?” She’s surprising herself by asking so many questions, so boldly. At least, the questions feel bold to her, as if she were just talking to some old neighbor instead of David Gold. The David Gold. How many late nights, how gloomy mornings—because she always seemed to hear him when she was on some edge somewhere, in some pained state, desperately in need of soothing—did she find one of his songs playing on the radio and stop to listen? To feel kinship with the yearning in his voice, the sound of reckoning? “I’m not sure,” Gold tells her. “I was staying with my son in Boston, but we had a bit of a falling out, so I decided to come home. I guess that must be here,” he says, “since I more or less made a bee-line for this place.” He seems to be in a confessional mood, so as she moves around the kitchen, going about the tasks required to produce their meal, Rita ventures an admission of her own. “You won’t remember of course,” she tells Gold, “but I we met once before. Before the other day at the garage, I mean. A million years ago, in the city, when cable tv was first becoming a big thing. You were on a show called Hot Topics, and so was I.” “Really?” Gold says. He’s taken the loaf of bread Rita brought with her and is fanning the slices out on a plate decorated with painted sunflowers. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I don’t remember.” “You sang some songs and then went to sit with the host of the show and talk to him for a while. Then, towards the end of the show, we came on—I mean, my band. I was in a band,” she says, and is surprised at how sad just saying those few words makes her feel. That’s why she tries never to say them to anyone, especially herself. But maybe “sad” isn’t exactly the right word anymore. It’s that yearning in his voice, Rita suggests to herself. That’s what I really mean. “It was my boyfriend’s band,” she continues. “I sang with them. After the show was over, I saw you backstage and I was so awestruck that I really had to force myself to go and say hello to you, but I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t. So I introduced myself and tried to tell you how much I loved your poetry and your music, and how wonderful I thought you were. You really weren’t all that interested though—you sort of nodded, told me that you were really tired and wanted to chill out at a movie and then asked me if I could recommend something that was playing in the city. You said you’d been on tour for so long you didn’t even know what movies were around.” Gold laughs, shakes his head. “What a prick I was! You should go tell Egyō that. He’d make me walk a mile naked in the snow for that one.” Rita shrugs. “I wasn’t hurt. It made me realize that no matter how famous you were, you were still just a guy. That sort of helped because as much as I loved you, I kind of resented you, too. Maybe not you personally—but what you represented. You came from a well-to-do family; they sent you to college, they helped support you when you first started out as a musician. Then you were successful on your own; you had your own money. Lots of it. You were doing what you wanted and nobody could take that away from you.” Rita is amazed by the things she is saying, which are unplanned; they are rushing out of her like prisoners crazed with their first taste of freedom. She knows that she should shut up, but she just can’t. “I was singing when I could,” she continues, “but I was also working every day in some office. I almost never had a day where I wasn’t trying to make something happen—work, money, the band; whatever. You could go off and live on some Greek island when you felt like kicking back.” The island is something else that Gold has often written about. “Wowee,” Gold says. “You do know a lot about me.” Then, furrowing his brow a little, as if he’s trying to remember something he’s made an effort to forget, he says, “It was always very hot on Hydra. That was the island,” he adds, as if the disparaging things Rita has said about him are less important than getting the setting right. The whole context. “But I’ll bet it was beautiful,” Rita says. “Yes,” Gold replies. “It was beautiful. But listen, little sister, go easy on an old man, okay? Don’t give me that poor jealous artist thing, if that’s what you’re doing, with a little class hatred thrown in. I’m all for class hatred. You want to go storm the barricades, I’m right behind you.’ “Let’s have dinner first,” Rita says. “That’s what always happens,” Gold says. “The revolution gets postponed and everybody forgets.” He picks up a slice of bread, begins munching on it. “This is good,” he tells Rita. And then goes back to the heart of their conversation. “So what happened to this band of yours?” “Oh, what always happens to a band?” Rita says. “We broke up. I moved up here with my boyfriend because there was another bunch of musicians living over in Bearsville that he had connected with. They played together for a couple of years—they actually had a following around New England—but I gave it up after a while. Singing, I mean. One of us had to make a living and I was better at it. I actually ended up managing a van service for a long time that transported disabled people around the Catskill area. I liked it—I was helping people. And kids. But I got laid off about a year ago, so I started doing temp work. It’s kind of hard upstate—finding a steady job, I mean. It was hard for a long time, but with the economy the way it is now, it’s gotten a lot worse. Everybody who isn’t already rich enough is scrounging around for money.” “So I hear,” Gold tells her. It sounds like a callous thing to say, but Rita has a feeling he’s being deliberately provocative for some reason. Or faking a surge of meanness. “So that’s what you’re going to keep on doing?” he continues. “Just take whatever work you can get? That’s your plan?” “Oh,” Rita says, “there was a time in my life when I did a lot of planning but it doesn’t seem to have done me much good. So the only plan I have now is to hang around and see what happens. Woodstock is a good place to do that. As a matter of fact, I think it’s the main occupation around here. It’s celebrated.” “In song and story,” comments Gold. Then he says, “Well, maybe one thing that will happen is you’ll find another boyfriend. I’m assuming, of course, that the original one is out of the picture?” “Long ago,” Rita replies. “But I’m not looking for anymore boyfriends. I don’t think love and romance would be of any real help to me at this point.” “It’s not supposed to help,” says Gold fiercely. “It’s supposed to make you crazy. What good is it if it can’t do that?” Then his mood softens again. He cocks his head and looks over at Rita with a genuine grin. “I’ll bet you were one of those girls: long hair, lots of action, lots of leather and lace. You’re still very pretty.” “Thank you,” Rita says. “But I’ll keep you guessing about the rest. And now, I think dinner is ready. Are you sure your friend will be okay with spaghetti?” “He’s actually my teacher,” says Gold. “Or was. The spiritual life didn’t quite take, which was a surprise, actually. I always thought that in my old age I’d make a great Zen Buddhist. Egyō keeps after me though, as you can see.” They go back into the living room, where the elderly monk is still sitting serenely on his stool. There is no dining area to speak of, so they all hold their plates in their laps as they eat. David Gold pours wine and he and Rita proceed to get just a little bit drunk. Egyō seems to find this amusing. And it is Egyō, once everyone has finished eating, who gets up, retrieves one of Gold’s guitars from its place in the corner and brings it to him. An old Martin, made of rich, yellowy brown rosewood and spruce, it seems to glow from within. Gold plays a few chords, fiddles with the tuning pegs and then starts to sing one of his early songs—the one Rita often hears on the radio when the local Woodstock station is doing deep album cuts from the psychedelic days. He starts in English but switches to Yiddish for the refrain. Egyō sings along with him in both languages, and Rita gets the sense that this is some act they do, but for themselves, for their own pleasure, and out of friendship. It’s a nice thing to see, and anyway, Rita can translate the chorus for herself, so she sings along, in her mind:
Dance, darlings, hand in hand with the small soul that lives behind the bone It claims there is a light inside us, but some say that there is none So dance, darlings, before al the rivers turn to rust Before we have to ask ourselves, why here, why now, why us?
If there is any discordant note in this scene it is that, listening to Gold sing—or try to—Rita realizes how ruined his voice is. The dark edges that gave it depth and tone have become ragged, so that he sounds not melodious but hollow, the notes almost grating on the ear. Rita stays for a while longer, but she can see that Gold is getting tired. When she says she’s going to leave he offers to drive her but she says no, she’ll just go back the way she came. So she heads off into the woods, switching on the flashlight that she had also slipped into her tote bag before she left home. That’s one thing she has learned about living in the country: never go anywhere without a flashlight. Long ago, when she first moved to Woodstock, she was fearful of walking anywhere at night even if she was carrying a heavy-duty flashlight that lit up a country road like a stage. But she had finally convinced herself that her fear was rooted in having watched too many movies where lunatics come running out of some cornfield wielding an axe. There are no monsters in the woods around here, only a veritable Disneyland of small, nocturnal mammals and big-eyed deer. And occasionally, in the spring—but not yet—a sleepy bear.
David Gold starts dropping by Rita’s house now and then, driving sometimes, sometimes walking the path through the woods. He borrows CDs and books, even asks to listen to old tapes of her band when Rita mentions that she has them. Since she works so much, he mostly shows up on weekends or in the evenings, when he stays for a while to watch tv. Rita is surprised by his regular visits, since she can’t imagine that he’s as alone as he appears to be. Egyō is still around, but also seems to spend a good deal of time at the Buddhist monastery just outside town, returning to Gold’s house to sleep—and to check on his former student, Rita suspects; to make sure he’s alright. Of course, Rita doesn’t know David Gold well enough to know, really, whether he is or he isn’t: he seems quiet, thoughtful, and still somewhat dreamy, as if the mood she found him in the night she made dinner has lingered. Is that “alright” for him? She does remember a different man from the time she watched him perform and then talked with him, briefly, many years ago—more intense, talkative—but then, he was a lot younger. And so was she, Rita reminds herself. So was everyone else she knows. Some weeks after they first met at the garage, Gold calls Rita and asks if she can come with him to the city. There’s someone he has to see, he tells her, and he’d like company. He mentions that Egyō can’t go with him, and that he knows it’s an inconvenience, but asks if it’s possible for Rita to do him this favor. It turns out that she can, though not entirely out of a volunteer spirit. Bud Miller, the owner of the garage, had called her just a few days before to tell her that he had to have his wife do the bookkeeping from here on out; not that he wanted to, because she was terrible at it, but he couldn’t afford to pay for even Rita’s occasional help. Rita wasn’t exactly surprised—she knew how slow business was—but it left her scrambling to find some extra work. She hadn’t come up with anything yet, so sure, she told David Gold, she could keep him company. “We aren’t going to drive though, are we?” she asks him. “Not in the snow globe.” “You’re right,” he tells her. “One wrong move on the highway and we’ll be crushed like bugs. We can take the bus.” The next day, Rita meets Gold in town and they catch the bus to New York. It’s a brisk day, sunny but still cool. Clouds fly around in the windy sky. All Gold had told Rita was that he had some business to do, and once they’re settled on the bus he doesn’t elaborate: he makes some small talk, commiserating with her when she tells him about the garage and suggesting that she call the monastery because the monks do, sometimes, need help with their own business affairs; letters need to be typed, supplies need to be ordered, and so on. Egyō, he tells her, can even do Excel. But then, he adds, Egyō can do almost anything. For the rest of the two-hour ride, Gold naps while Rita watches the highway roll by. The scenery outside the window could be a continuous loop of the same mile running over and over again: bare trees, just beginning to think about coming into leaf; gray road, cars, cars, cars. Her own thoughts wander from an image of herself perched on a stool in the monastery, breathing the incense-feathered air and typing on a laptop--Dear Sir, we need more chai tea and bolts of saffron-colored cloth—to the fact that she can’t remember the last time she was in New York. It must be years, she thinks. Years and years. They arrive at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and have to navigate crowds and escalators to find their way outside, to the busy avenue. Gold hails a cab and tells the driver to take them downtown. They get out on lower Fifth Avenue, in front of a converted century-old factory building with a stone parapet marching across its façade. There’s a bank downstairs and smoky glass windows on every floor above, signaling that the offices on the higher floors have been renovated by modern enterprises much too cool to be housed any further uptown. “Where are we?” Rita finally asks Gold. “CAA,” he tells her, as if she should know, immediately, what the acronym stands for. “I want to see what they can do for me.” Inside, as Gold signs in at the security desk, Rita reads the directory on the wall and realizes they’re going to Creative Artists Agency, which she has heard of. They’re a talent management firm, one of the most important, with what the tabloids she reads in the supermarket call “major stars” on their roster. Well, she thinks, at least she’s sort of dressed for this, having put on what she considers her office clothes: a skirt, a nice sweater, a spring coat. Gold is also more sharply dressed than usual. In fact, Rita decides, he looks almost handsome again—like an old photograph of himself come back to life—in the black suit he’s wearing and a soft fedora, so stylistically out of fashion that it is, of course, just on the edge of being back in again. As they ride up in the elevator, Gold takes Rita’s hand. She looks over at him but he’s staring straight ahead; his face is impassive, unreadable. But his fingers are still entwined with hers as they step out of the elevator into a reception area of pale wood and stripped brick walls seemingly illuminated by more natural light than even brightened the streets outside. Gold tells the receptionist who he is and in moments, they are ushered down a hallway to a large office, another bright space with brick walls, this one hung with vintage concert posters. There are two men in the office, both thirtyish, nice looking, wearing jeans and sports jackets—hip office casual, Rita decides, for men making big money. One of them is positioned behind a desk, the other lounging in a chair nearby. Both men stand when Gold and Rita come in and there’s a lot of vigorous hand shaking before everyone sits down. Pleasantries are exchanged; there’s some conversation about seeing Tom Waites at a club in the Village a number of years ago, where Gold seems to have meet at least one of the men, whose name is Roger. He has a faint English accent. “So,” Gold says finally. “As I said on the phone, I’d like to hear what ideas you have.” “We have plenty of ideas,” Roger says. “But maybe the best context for this conversation is to frame it in these terms: simply put, we can do whatever you want. But since you’ve asked for our input, I’d venture to say that we should start with a window of six months—that’ll take us through the summer concert season. And we’ll work with the, uh, more intimate kind of places. Like the Beacon. And the Bethel Center for the Arts—you said you were living up in Woodstock, yeah? So that would be a great warm-up. And then we map out a few accommodating venues in, say, Chicago, Cleveland, maybe Kansas City, and then continue on to the West Coast.” The other man, who seems to be named Anson, breaks in at that point and says, “Do you mind, David, if I ask you how the lawsuit is going? I was really shocked when I heard. Lila was always so…respected. And respectful of you. It just seemed impossible to everyone that she would…well.” “It seemed impossible to me, too,” Gold replies. “I stayed at the retreat house on Mount Baldy for about two years, and then when I decided to come back East, that’s when I found out everything was gone. The lawsuit’s going along,” he continues, “but it’ll take years. And anyway, it doesn’t seem like any of the money is left. Apparently, she spent it having a high old time—in more ways that one—with some boyfriend. That’s what always does it,” he says, glancing over at Rita, who responds with rueful look. “You just lose your mind.” After listening to a bit more of the conversation, which continues in this vein, Rita realizes that they are talking about Gold’s former manager, a woman named Lila Lindsey. She had apparently embezzled most of his money—the proceeds of a lifetime of work—while he was at a Zen retreat, deciding that maybe he wanted to be a monk, like Egyō. Eggo. But, the spiritual life didn’t quite take, he had said. Now, he doesn’t seem particularly angry at this Lila; in fact, he sounds almost admiring. What else had he said? About love: it’s not supposed to help. It’s supposed to make you crazy. As the three men continue talking, Rita pieces together the reason for this meeting: Gold is exploring the possibility of going on tour again after more than fifteen years off the road because he needs the cash. But she also knows that it’s impossible for him to be planning concerts because—as was clear from the attempts at after-dinner harmonizing the night she was at his house—his voice is gone. It’s a broken instrument, beyond repair. She doesn’t believe he would be one to delude himself about that, so she’s not sure, then, why they’re here. Still, they all go on chatting, discussing different venues that might suit Gold in this city and that. Bottles of sparkling water are brought in by a secretary, along with cheese, crackers and fruit. At one point, Gold picks up a tangerine, peels off the rind and pulls apart the sections. He eats a few of them but the others he hands to Rita, one by one, seemingly without thought. It’s what a lover would do, and as Rita accepts another piece of the fruit from David Gold she thinks, So that’s the answer: he just wanted to be here, to enjoy this conversation. And to have these young men see him with a woman on his arm. They go on talking for another half hour or so, and then Gold tells Roger and Anson that he’ll think about everything they’ve suggested and get back to them. After another set of handshakes all around, Gold leads Rita out of the office. Downstairs, in the street, he says, “Well, that was informative. But don’t be fooled by the nice manners and the free treats: they’re all chazzers,you know.In the old days, the concert promoters were just as wild as the rest of us; you’d smoke a couple of joints, rent an old bus with a couple of fold-down beds and a hotplate and boom—you were on tour. But now…it’s all big business. They all bleed you. Lila was just more direct about it than most.” “I’ll try to remember all that if I ever think about going back into the music business,” Rita tells him. “Me, too,” Gold says. “If I ever decide.” Suddenly, as if he’s just realized where they are, Gold looks around, noting the street signs, seeming, almost, to sniff the air. “You know what I’d like to do now?” he says, to Rita, “I think I’d like to go say hello to some ghosts.” Immediately, she picks up on what he means: they are just a manageable walk away from Gold’s old haunt—and right then, she can hear Egyō laughing in the back of her mind: ghosts, haunts, Ha ha!--t/he Chelsea Hotel where, in the psychedelic days, so many of the writers, rockers and folkies camped out, sometimes for months—even years—on end. It was the best place to be down and out or on top of the world. Tenants could rent a room or an apartment; cop acid in the hallway, play guitar naked on the fire escape. Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning. This was the place, the destination, at the center of everyone’s songs. Gold takes Rita’s hand again and they begin the short trek from the east side of the city to the west, heading toward the hotel. It’s mid-week in Manhattan; most of the people on the crowded streets seem to be advancing toward some work-day destination, moving at a brisk pace, their faces masked by thoughts of inner concerns. In contrast, Rita feels as if she and Gold are wandering along the surface of a world that only they can see: it is turning backwards for them, rolling back time to allow them both a glimpse of what used to be—because the memories they are moving toward are not only David Gold’s, they are Rita’s, as well. Hers revolve more around railroad flats in the East Village, bars and clubs clustered around Sheridan Square, but this was her territory too, for a while, the streets and neighborhoods where she thought she was going to make her life, when she was younger. This is where she was younger; where she was a singer with the band. Finally, there it is, across the street: a Victorian-style building, faced with red brick and black iron scrollwork, squatting on the southwest side of 23rd Street, beneath a huge sign rising vertically over the sidewalk that seems to be using every ounce of bright white electricity in New York to spell out HOTEL CHELSEA. Gold and Rita stop for a moment to absorb the sight. Then Rita asks, “Do you want to go in?” “No,” Gold says. “It was gutted a couple of years ago and they redid everything. They even tore apart Dylan’s room. It may look the same but it’s all fake, all done up for the tourists.” But he does decide, suddenly, to walk across the street. Rita follows as he threads his way through the slow-moving traffic, gains the sidewalk again, and then watches as he walks up to the front door and puts his hand on the glass. Closing his eyes, he says, softly. “Hello, everybody. It’s David. Hello, hello.” Softly, he says to Rita, “Put your hand on top of mine.” She does, and he murmurs, “That’s everything, right there. The energy of everybody. Of life.” Of course they can’t stand in front of the door for more than a few moments, blocking the entrance. So they both move away, and Gold walks to the curb to hail another cab. He’s silent on the ride back to the bus terminal and naps again, most of the way back to Woodstock. The bus climbs through the foothills of the Catskills, taking them home. The cold golden light of a chill spring afternoon in the mountains decorates the horizon, dazzles the eye. Gold suggests that Rita come back to his place since they haven’t eaten; it’s his turn to make something, he says. Egyō, he tells her, has gone shopping and the house is full of food. And indeed, Egyō is home when they arrive, but so is someone else. The elderly monk is once again perched on the stool, but on the couch is a young man, handsome and serious looking. Rita knows immediately that this must be Gold’s son; he looks too much like his father to be anyone else. She can even guess more about him: he’s the product of a long, stormy love affair that began in Gold’s middle age and ended sadly. Gold had chronicled the relationship in the last album he’d ever released. “Josh,” Gold says. “When did you get here?” He seems genuinely surprised to see his son. “Oh, a little while ago. I called Yoshi yesterday and he said you might be willing to talk.” “I’m always willing to talk,” Gold says. “That’s not the problem.” The young man looks at Yoshi, seeming to appeal for help. “David,” the monk says, “I can’t stay much longer and I don’t want to leave you on your own.” “I’ve always been on my own,” Gold says. “I’m fine.” “Dad,” Josh says, “I just want you to come home. I miss you.” “This is my home,” Gold says. “This is it, now.” For the first time since they’ve walked into the house, he looks over at Rita. She pictures him, again, with his eyes closed saying, This is David. Hello, hello.” “But Dad, I told you, if you miss being here that much, I’ll come back with you more,” says Gold’s son. “Every weekend if you want. If I don’t have a class, we can be here, okay? Just let me help you out a little. I mean, you’ve had a major operation, you’re not finished with chemo yet…you just can’t disappear anymore. Not without telling anyone.” “I told Yoshi,” Gold says. “Well you need to tell me, too,” the son says emphatically. “How many times do you expect Yoshi to walk here from Mount Baldy just to keep an eye on you?” Gold suddenly laughs out loud. “Is that what he told you? It’s what he told me, too.” He wags his finger at Yoshi. “You’re no spring chicken either,” he says. “Maybe we should both go live with Josh.” “Too much,” says Yoshi. “A monk and a poet. Much too much for one nice boy to put up with.” “He is a nice boy,” Gold says. “God knows how he turned out that way.” Josh lets out a long, exasperated sigh, but it’s a kind of pantomime; Rita has the feeling that this is a scene father and son—perhaps along with the old monk—have played out many times before. She decides to use the moment to slip away, feeling that she’s accidentally intruded enough on this family drama, but before she reaches the front door, Gold calls out to her. “Lovely Rita,” he says. “Meter maid.” “I’ve heard that one before,” Rita tells him. “I’ll bet you have.” He walks over to her and kisses her on the cheek. “Thanks,” he says. “It was a good day.” The following evening, returning home late from an overtime shift of doing data entry at the satellite office of a credit card company, she stops by Gold’s house, thinking she’ll just find out how everybody is. She assumes someone is home because the little snow-globe-shaped car is in the driveway, but the house is dark. It may be that the occupants have just gone out for a while but Rita doesn’t think so: the house has the feeling of having been locked up in preparation for a long absence. Still, the son had mentioned coming back on weekends, so Rita calls the following Saturday, but the phone rings and rings. No one answers. She doesn’t try again but spends the weekend looking through help wanted ads, searching online job sites. She needs to find something to do to bring in the money she’s not earning because of losing the job at the garage. It takes a few weeks and she has to go back to something she hasn’t done since she was in her early twenties—waitressing—but she does find a job at a barbeque restaurant in White Lake that’s opening for the season. The job may just last through the spring and summer, but there’s a possibility that, if they do well, they’ll stay open year round, and Rita will have a steady position. They want her to work weekends, which means that if she’s going to have even one day off a week she has to give up one of her data entry jobs, but she’s willing to take the risk because the tips at the restaurant give her a little extra money and she likes talking to the people who come in for lunch and dinner. They’re mostly locals, hardworking people who seem happy enough to be able to take a break from the daily grind to sit on the porch that wraps around the restaurant and watch spring come to upstate New York. There are boaters on the lake now and fishermen on the shore, but it’s still a haven for wildlife. Pairs of swans glide through the water and there are eagles in the air. Sometimes, walking to the bus stop on her way to the restaurant, Rita first takes the path through the woods, just to see if David Gold has come back for a weekend, as his son suggested, but there’s never anyone home, though the odd little car remains parked in the driveway. One Saturday, however, late on a bright spring morning, Rita walks by the house and sees a young woman emerge from inside, carrying a box of books that she places on the passenger seat of the little car, which holds an assortment of what seem to be Gold’s belongings: Rita spies the Martin guitar, a large plastic tub full of records. The girl is gloriously pretty, and in the Indian-print shift she’s wearing, with her long blonde hair shining in the sunlight, she reminds Rita of the retro hippie posters that are hanging in almost every store in Woodstock. She waves to Rita, as if they know each other, but Rita can only speculate about who she is: the son’s girlfriend? Some new love of David Gold’s, still a ladies’ man even in old age, even ill, as apparently he is? Or perhaps another follower of the mysterious Yoshi? There’s no way to know, short of asking her, but even if Rita was inclined to do that, the opportunity slips away because after closing the passenger door, the girl settles herself into the driver’s seat and starts the car, which glides down the driveway and turns onto the street. It still looks like a snow globe, Rita thinks, as the car and the golden-haired girl inside disappear into a haze of sunlight and breezes. All spring and into the summer, Rita still wanders by the house from time to time, and calls occasionally, but there’s never anyone there. Eventually, she stops trying because her reasons for doing so—just to say hello, to keep up the connection with someone she’s grown fond of—recede behind the more pressing concerns she has to deal with every day. She’s glad to have spent time with David Gold, glad to have had the chance to look back at things through his eyes, to put a little perspective on the big issues that she knows are probably lurking around her door somewhere, just waiting for their chance to wander in and demand some attention—success and failure; illness and aging; love in all its forms, lost, found, and abandoned; and home: where, really, is home?—but all that’s for later, for some less demanding and volatile future, if it ever comes. Right now, times are tough and getting tougher. Even, sometimes, scary bad. Despite the new job, Rita is still just scraping by. She gets up in the dark almost every morning and though she’d like to go on sleeping, to linger in her dreams, she knows she can’t. She checks the time on the clock, puts her feet on the floor and thinks, Okay. Now I have to get to work.