by Daniel Stephensen


• A Field of Yellow Flowers

• Superposition: Selected Poems 2010 – 2012



• Read to you by me

A man for himself

Alan drove them down the mountain in his old Detzler Prince. It rode smoothly, was powerful, black, its leather seats faded to grey.

'I dreamed in another language last night,' said Rosa. 'It was about an old jeweller in Manhattan. He worked as a transvestite – I mean he came to work in this old shop, which had been his father's, for thirty years dressed as a woman, but when he wasn't at work he dressed as a man. He went around Manhattan dressed as a man on weekends, and no one knew him as the woman jeweller. He wanted to retire to Monterey and live out his life there as his own man, because as a woman his whole emotional life was bound up in this jewellery shop, and it wasn't doing well, the business. He wasn't doing well either, in Manhattan, and what made it all so easy for him to decide was that he was in love with a beautiful lady in Monterey.

'They wrote each other post cards and had done this for twenty years. More than anyone in the world, this lady in Monterey gave him a vision of what life was supposed to be like. So do you know what he did? Well, he had collected, during his career as a jeweller, the most beautiful specimens he could find of all the birthstones: Garnet, amethyst, bloodstone, diamond, emerald, alexandrite, ruby, sardonyx, sapphire, tourmaline, citrine, turquoise. He made these gems into pendants set in white gold, and gave himself a year after that to change his life. He bought a one way plane ticket to San Francisco. Each month he sent his love a new pendant, for the birthstone of that month, and in return she sent as a post card a photograph of herself wearing the pendant.

'In a year he shut his business, sold all the stock to another jeweller, and sold the premises. He bought three new tailored suits, nine new shirts, packed them in a small bag with his underwear and socks and a diamond ring he had made, and went to Monterey. He didn't even take his shaving kit, he would buy everything new for his last new life. Everything he owned was in that little bag. So he left behind all his other clothes and became a man again, but a different man. A man for himself. He had grown up a man, lived as a woman within that man, and now he wanted to be a man again, but for himself.

'Now at last in Monterey after so many years he met his beloved, and they went together to be married by an old tree in Big Sur – I mean the tree spoke vows for them with its leaves – and then they bought a convertible and drove together up and down the coast for all the rest of their lives, staying in little towns, sitting on beaches, eating the best food they ever had. She played the double bass and he played the trumpet and together they formed a little band. They used to play out on the highway – listen, this is true – they played at a fruit stand out on the highway, so people would stop to buy their fruit, and there would be Charles on his horn and Ivy on her double bass, and whenever things got tight with money, they sold one of the birthstone pendants he had made her. Charles and Ivy. They were in love for all their whole long lives, but they only ever got to spend a few years together. Maybe a decade. I feel like I knew them forever. What do you think of that? They spoke in a different language, too. I don't know what. German, Russian, I don't know. What do you think?'

Alan thought about it for a time.

'Do I seem strange to you?' asked Rosa.

'I think I can honestly swear I have never known anyone more strange,' he said.

'Oh, good! Good. I needed to get that off my chest. I was starting to think maybe you'd fall in love with me without knowing what kind of girl I really am.'

'What kind of girl are you?'

'Don't you know?'

'Not at all. I wonder if I ever could.'

'Well, I don't know either. Listen, you can't just give yourself altogether to a man, my mother told me. You have to give yourself in small pieces. Every time I give you a small piece, you save me, do you know that? I feel a little more safe. Is that what it means to save someone? I feel more safe. Well, you know. I want you – oh, I always cry when I'm very happy – I want you to save me altogether, that's the feeling I get – that's what kind of girl I am – but I don't want you to save me at all, you know, because I can look after myself, but I want you to have the feeling that you might make the effort if it came to that. Do you see? If I really made a mess of myself, I would want you to want to save me altogether, not just the little pieces, even though I wouldn't let you. I don't know why I keep looking out this window. How many times will I get to look at you driving again? I could die today. It's a perfect day. You're a perfect man. You've got a perfect nose. Can you pull over here? I want to kiss your nose.'

And he did, and she kissed his nose right on its tip, and they went on their way again. Rosa didn’t speak then for almost an hour, when she reminded him they were supposed to go to Barnaby to find her a doctor. He laughed and swore mildly, turned around the car and started back.