The Red Glove

— Brian May

“And you can’t look back.
‘Cause you don’t know history.”
Mamet

 

1

The young man awoke at two o’clock in the morning.  He had heard a noise outside his window, a kind of snap.  He got up and pushed aside the curtains so that he could look out upon Lake Ellyn, the lovely reach of which spread beneath his hillside window.

There was summer mist on the warm water of the lake, but he could see something in the clouds, the mist, or radiance, moving towards him through the dark bright night, as if a silver cloud wrapping a Blue Ridge mountain in its moist warmth.  And he could hear something… a kind of echo.

It was… what was it, what was it moving in the mist, scraping, swishing, skating…

It was a skater.

It was a woman, a young one.

It was a beautiful young woman.

She was skating towards him out of the mist, a silver dress shimmering in the darkness, diamonds on a black felt cloth.

2

Barry didn’t believe him.

Harry didn’t believe him.

Kay, the sensible one, to whom he just hinted about the whole thing, didn’t seem interested.

Jerry at least seemed interested.

“When was it?”

I don’t know—it was the middle of the night.

“Not water-skiing?”

Skating.

“Not swimming?”

No, skating.

“Not treading, like, walking, pushing herself along in the water?”

Not treading, not walking, not walking in the water, not walking ON the water—SKATING!!!!

“OK, OK,” said Jerry.  “Sheesh.”

3

Months passed.  The young man forgot about it all.  Yet one early morning, about two o’clock in the morning, he heard a noise outside his window.  He got up and pushed aside the curtains so that he could look out upon Lake Ellyn, the lovely reach of which spread beneath his hillside window.

There was autumn mist on the cool water of the lake, but he could see something in the clouds, the mists, rising off the lake.

The skater was there, skating away, scraping little showers of ice, shaving ice with sharp blades, echoing as if from walls of a canyon.  She swerved in a broad sweep smoothly leftward and started coming back towards him, and, yeah, he could tell, though he couldn’t quite see her face, her features, so brilliant was the shining silver dress, like platinum on fire, that she was looking right at him.

4

She was on the walk outside…  She was skating on the sidewalk, the grass, roof, sky.

It was all noise now, not loud, just everywhere… a kind of silence into which you can see.

All light now, she was in his room, near the closet.  She was near the bed, the room flooding with light.  He felt wrapped up in it, almost blind, starting to float.

Redgloved, red silver gold radiant, resplendent, slowly a hand, diamond-spangled, rosy-fingered, redgloved, raised up, reached out, slowly, touching his lips…

His head filled with light, the air shimmered, the world shook…

5

“Are you out of your mind,” asked Jerry.

“Are you crazy,” asked Jerry.

“Have you lost touch with reality,” asked Jerry.

Yes, he said.

There was a pause.

“Well,” said Jerry, “O, Kay, I guess….  And now what?”

Huh?

“What are you going to do with yourself, now that this has happened?”

Well, nothing, I guess.  It’s no big deal.

“O, Kay,” said Jerry.

I have done one thing, but it doesn’t matter.

“What?”

Oh, it’s nothing much.

“WHAT?”

Well… I’ve… I’ve taken up skating.

6

3 am, skating, and the lights go out.  Nothing, no light, anywhere, other than in the sky with stars.  A rush of wind, a bang, and the school is now altogether lost in a black cloud of smoke that rolls in a flood down the hill and spreads over the ice, coming towards him… the house is on fire… no, the hotel, the hotel on the hill, which rises up sprawling majestically where once the school stood, and he hears screams, and a girl comes out of the cloud on skates, coming towards him, fast, riding on a scream…

7

“He’s working at the Econo Lodge on 38, last I heard,” said Kay.

“What?” said Jerry.

“Yeah,” said Kay, “night shift.”

There was a pause.

“O my god…”

“Yeah,” Kay burst out, “Yeah, he leaves his million-plus dollar house every night to go work night shift at the Econo Lodge!” Laughing…

There was a pause.

“Are his parents OK with it?  His father…ever since he dropped out…”

“Yeah,” said Kay, “I don’t know about that, but it’s hard to think he’d be in favor of this, that buttoned-down corporate guy…”

“Yeah,” said Jerry.  “Did you know his father actually called me up the other night?  My mother told me.  Thank god I was gone.”

“I heard that Caitlin was called.”

“Really!” said Jerry.

There was a pause.

“Not that that would matter.  Not that she would care or do anything…”

“Yeah,” said Kay.  “That’s over, that’s for sure.  She’s gone churchy with that new guy… But it doesn’t matter—his father never listens anyway, like he’s got poop in his ears.”

“Yeah, ” said Jerry.  “Anyway, I was out on the Prairie Path with Harry…”

Laughing…

“Taking a walk, huh?”

“Yeah, Harry and I… a constitutional!”

“Yeah, your evening constitutional!”

There was a pause.

“The Econo Lodge?” said Jerry.

8

Here, he thought, it is the people who are ghosts, not the ghosts who are people.

3am, sitting, the MUZAK turned down as low as possible, he was now and then checking in the rootless riff raff of low-end travelling salesmen and women who…well, they were hard to place.  They would never have been allowed in THAT hotel, unless they had been female, young, and professional…from Chicago’s south side, probably, Irish, hard as nails, lost in space, looking westward from the highest window in the Hotel, on starry nights where the late nineteenth-century prairie stretched away as if endless…

It was a relief, after all that.

It all started with the history lessons, first from that friend of his father’s who told them about poor young Stoney Hatley, who did it for Suzie, he said, on the rocks below the reservoir sluicegate, and then all that reading in History about Glen Ellyn, which he had never thought HAD a history.  He kept reading, sort of on his own, gathering up what hard historical facts he could, peeling away the history of his town, each layer of which, yes, like an onion, seemed translucent, seemed partially to conceal, partially reveal, local myths, received stories, inconvenient truths… grotesque scenes, frightening visions, appalling little cul de sacs of what might have been.

9

“The ECONO LODGE!!!!!???”

10

She was probably a pro, he said.

He had come up with a name: Laura Dowden.

It was one of those blessed nights, blessed because so few, that the green light was shining in the night.  Skating was allowed and, even, encouraged—at least, earlier in the evening.  The Ice Guards had been out, that safety patrol on ice.  Which was rare, these days: what with the chemical runoff from the riotous “new development of existing homes” and other “home improvements” that had occurred in the watershed, events known to others as home removals and tear-downs, and due as well to the consequent in-fills, the lake had grown chemically resistant to the cold.  Once, the lake had frozen regularly for weeks and months on end, and the Illinois High School Speed Skating Championships had been held on Lake Ellyn in the 1960’s.  Never again…

It was his night off, and it was late, very, very late; the orange cones were gone.  He had the ice to himself.

Yeah, she was probably a pro, he said, aloud, to himself.

A pro…a pro…apro…

There was an echo—from the brick walls of the school on the hill, maybe, or the houses on the other little rises ringing the lake.

She was Irish, like me, not that I’m Irish, really—but neither was she, he thought, not really.

He had been reading in the history of Glen Ellyn and of Illinois, generally, which had taken him to the larger question of the Irish in America and, by way of Ellis Island, back to Ireland, to the question of the Irish in Ireland—to the question of the Irish, period.

A pretty big question…great hatreds, he had read, little room.

But he had a big room.

“As big a room,” his father had told him, “as any in Glen Ellyn.”  His father was very proud of having gotten him such a big bedroom.

The lake, howsomever, was a bigger one.

“Howsomever” was the way some Irish used to say “however,” he imagined.

There was a big wind that night, and suddenly a loud noise, a “bang,” according to reports, and then one could see smoke and people running out of the hotel, most of whom were wearing very little—this happened in the middle of the night—and some of whom were on fire.

They interviewed one very young woman from Chicago who was there by herself, or with friends, co-workers, but not with her parents.  She made it out just fine but she was grieving the apparent loss of her pal, another young woman, named Laura Dowden.

Laura Dowden had not been located as of press time but seemed, to her friend, to have disappeared, as if she had just kept running.  She had last been seen running northwestward across the frozen lake…he could see her disappearing into a sepia-toned cloud.  And all they ever found was a glove.  A red glove.

11

“He doesn’t sleep in his room anymore, not at night.  He said it was too big—he couldn’t sleep there anymore.  His mom told mine.  He sleeps in his father’s study on the couch.  They are worried about him, obviously.”

“He needs to snap out of it.”

“But what is it?  What is ‘it’?  As Mulvaney would say, ‘what is it out of which he needs to snap’?”

“Ahhhh… there’s the rub.”

There was a pause.

“You know something,” said Jerry.

“What?”

“I’m a little worried about him, too.”

12

Laura Dowden was born of Irish American immigrant parents in South Holland, Illinois, in 1884, in black and white.

She had been a good student in parochial school.

Her father died when she was sixteen.

Her mother was an alcoholic.  She got a job while young in a Southside diner where she became locally famous for the sharpness of her tongue and the redness of her hands.

She was attractive, and pure, wearing gloves of white.

She was possessed of an unusually brilliant brain that could broach bunches of difficult subjects and master them quickly.

Gifted with an unusually powerful imagination, she had written lyric poems while an adolescent and had them published in a fledgling poetry magazine, based in Chicago, called Poetry.

She had a tough upbringing but had persevered into young adulthood—until the crash.

Laura Dowden fell into the ways of ill repute while still a young woman and soon distinguished herself, amongst the Irish pimps of South Side Chicago, as a profitable piece of chattel, indeed.

Laura Dowden had a heart of gold.

13

There was no Laura Dowden.

14

It is two o’clock in the morning.

The young man awakes, rises, glances about his empty room, which stretches away miles in every direction, and goes to the window.

A red light is shining in the night.

Skating, silence, and then, finally, the wind rises, the bang, the smoke rolls out over the ice, fire, screams, and riding on the scream, the beautiful girl.  Jesus, there she is… and she is one fire.  She skates right by him at a million miles per hour… throws her head back, a smile, dazzling, but featureless, there is no face… He wheels, starts skating in pursuit… it is broad daylight in his brain, the crowd collectively sighs, applause, rah rah sis koom bah, cymbals, he’s in the lead and gaining on her, the glove flies off and away, the red glove, and he reaches out for it, sprawling, practically airborne… and, yeah…yeah.  That’s what happens.

15

“I don’t think he suffered,” said Kay.

“No, the cold makes it quick,” said Harry.  “The cops said it’s faster than when the water’s warm…”

“Thank god for global warming,” said Kay.

There was a pause.

“Bummer,” said Harry.

“No, it was his father,” said Kay.

“No,” said Harry, “It was this place…I’m getting out of here.  I’m leaving on a jet plane…the Metra, anyway… Chicago, LA, New York…”

“No,” said Kate.

There was a pause.

“Jerry.”

“Jerry?”

“Yeah…” said Jerry.  “What?”

“Jerry, what was it?”

There was a pause.

“Jerry?”

“Huh,” said Jerry.

“Yeah, ” said Harry.  “What exactly was the question?”

 


 

Married with three children, Brian May is a Virginia native who taught in Texas for six years before moving to the Chicago suburbs in 1997. Now a professor of English at Northern Illinois University, he is the author of two academic books—Extravagant Postcolonialism: Modernism and Modernity in Anglophone Fiction, 1958-1988 (2014) and The Modernist as Pragmatist: E. M. Forster and the Fate of Liberalism (1997)—as well as a number of literary-critical discussions of such authors as Ford Madox Ford, W. B. Yeats, V. S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Chinua Achebe, and J. M. Coetzee. His most recent work of fiction is a prequel to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four that is entitled “Nineteen Forty-Eight – From the Archives of Oceania.”