Issue No. 15, Winter 2015

Ulysses
Toti O’Brien

Ulysses called on his way, saying he couldn’t find my place. His accent and a blur in the reception made it difficult to hear him: as if he called indeed from an immense remoteness. Still I asked him to describe where he was, finally managing to recognize the name of a street. “But you are very close!” I exclaimed with great enthusiasm, probably disproportioned while speaking to an unknown repairman. “I know, I know,” he said with the tone of one who knows a lot.

When he passed the front door I had a pang I can hardly describe. Not because he was handsome. He wasn’t. But he carried that something in the eye that just opens Pandora’s vase and breaks hell or heaven loose. One of the two: impossible to predict. That something in the eye you know perfectly but you can’t describe, until it smacks you right in the face from somebody else’s face. Usually the most uncanny somebody.

Age indefinable, body worn from hard work, bushy hair, beard curled and fawn revealed in their midst those eyes of depth unfathomable. Those eyes full of ocean, those eyes that have seen it all but will forever guard their secret. Yes, I recognized them although I didn’t expect them… if I ignore the formal warning we had properly exchanged: “You are close!” “Yes I know…”

When we walked into the kitchen I had shut the lid and secured it in place. I had worn my armor and sharpened my defenses.

His first gestures were almost shy. I looked for a stepstool to spare him a trip to his van: he smiled thankfully. Then he started to operate on my microwave while I literally watched his back. Without turning around he uttered: “How did you find me?” I lost it for a second. I almost murmured: “I don’t know… I just waited and believed” but I caught myself and I mentioned the internet.

I’m not sure he heard my answer… he had started mumbling a sort of litany – or a lullaby, or a spell, both reassuring and strange – in a language I didn’t know. Harsh, archaic and guttural: certainly ancient Greek I thought, mesmerized. But it could have been Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian or Turkish. Blond hair? Blue eyes? It had to be Greek. I numbed myself within its sounds, getting farther and farther from the place we were in.

He was fast. Rapidly he pinpointed the problem, tried several options in order to solve it, did whatever I asked for, patiently explained details I needed to understand. To one of my requests he shouted: “You don’t need me!” He referred to a task I could perform by myself without spending on him. Those few words once more startled me, reaching me like a bullet. A small bullet perhaps, but still.

You don’t need me… if he said so. Did he travel so far to bring me the news? That my helpless wait had been vain? That I could have managed without him? Did he arrive to state such a banality? He was right though…

He laughed often. Not at me. He laughed at things and himself: at what was inside the wounded appliance, what he unsuccessfully tried, what he finally pulled out of his hat. He laughed throughout his muttering, singing, cussing in the mysterious language, and his laughter didn’t bother me at all. On the contrary it confirmed what I already knew – that all was a joke, unimportant and light.

When I asked if he did some other kind of repair he burst: “You don’t understand! I’m alone.” As if I didn’t know. “Me too,” I wanted to say, but my mouth knew better. Finally he stuck a business card on my fridge and he went. I did not wish to keep him. I didn’t want to explore the hazards evoked by his sky-looking irises.

Just for fun I went to see online critics of his work. They were dissonant… I know it happens with all customers’ comments. Experiences, also the most practical, are truly subjective. Still reports about him were amazingly opposite: he appeared as a saint, a savior, a magical master of the trade – or a thief, a robber, a scoundrel. In such cases he was defined as the “guy with the heavy accent”. Clearly a prejudice was at play. A tinge of racial profiling weighed on the harsh judgments.

Overall the picture drawn by such inconsistent reviews struck me as chameleonic… very appropriate for Ulysses, who notoriously had said to the Cyclops he blinded: “My name is No Man”. His poor victim kept yelling: “No man’s hurting me! No man’s robbing me!”

Yes, his name is nobody.

I forgot: the critics (the positive ones) also praised his being “perfectly on time”. That is paradoxical for someone you have been always waiting. But it means what it means. He gets there when he must, apparently. And he does what your circumstances require… he informs you for instance you don’t need him at all. He suggests you are sufficiently strong, you can pull it together by yourself.

With a tiny bit of his help.


Toti O’Brien’s work has appeared in Synesthesia, Siren, The Harpoon Review, and Litro NY , among other journals and anthologies.