Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Stephen Faulkner

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

            When for some odd reason the subject of alleys come up in conversation the people I talk to immediately presuppose an urban setting. They never think in terms of a town or a village, only a city; that, to them, is the only place where alleys can be found. The second connection they make is that of crime. Alleys, whether wide or narrow, long or short, bright, dim or dark, are the natural settings for muggings, murders and rapes. Almost every person I have spoken to since I have left Jenson all seem to have the same prejudice against alleys. Don’t go near them, they tell me, not ever. You’ll only be asking for trouble.

            After a pause punctuated by a facile series of murmurs and nods, I tell them of home, of Jenson with its enviable record of crime statistics some twenty percentage points below the most conservative estimates published for the state as a whole. There have been maybe one murder a year there, if that; muggings and robberies – about ten. Over the period of a decade there had been only two rapes reported, one of which was brought to the attention of the authorities only after the girl learned that she was pregnant. The “culprit” was her boyfriend and a court case was avoided by the forced expediency of a hastily planned wedding. The only extended “crime spree” ever noted was a spate of burglaries, about eleven in all, that were committed two years before I left Jenson for the city. Those responsible were two young men in their early twenties, guys I had known from high school and never liked. Once they were caught the crime wave ended and nothing came along since then to cause so much concern and fervor. For a town with a population of a little more than twenty thousand Jenson’s record is impeccable, irreproachable. Somebody there must be doing something right.

            When objections would be raised that Jenson’s piddly crime rate, though impressive, had nothing to do with the subject at hand (alleys) I would then tell them of Deddom’s, Lockridge’s and Balton’s. These are all alleys in town and for all the murders, beatings, rapes and robberies that have taken place on its streets throughout the town’s entire history, none of these narrow passages between buildings had ever been involved. Deddom’s in particular, I have felt forced to say on more than one occasion, was something of a haven to me being, as it had been, part of my customary means of getting home from school. This is no surprise, really, since it was a part of the route for nearly every student at Jenson High who lived crosstown from school Deddom’s Alley was a convenient shortcut, affording an uninterrupted straight line from the school to Lacey Avenue, Jenson’s main thoroughfare. In my last year at Jenson High the school had become so overcrowded due to the much touted post-war baby boom that two different sessions were imposed. The morning-to-afternoon session was given to the freshmen and sophomores, the afternoon-to-evening session to the juniors and seniors. I got out at seven o’clock and by early October the street lights were already on, twilight just starting to shade toward the blackness of night. There were no outdoor lights in Deddom’s at that time yet I and my friends refused to change our homeward route.

            Even at its darkest I knew Deddom’s Alley to be as safe as my own bedroom. The only event that was even remotely troubling that I experienced there occurred in broad daylight. Deddom’s was used by many students, as I’ve said; singly and in groups, they would traipse through on their way to school or home. The floor of the alley was always littered with their (our) leavings: candy wrappers, soda cups, loose leaf pages, potato chip bags, broken pencils, leaky pens, greasy waxed paper, tinfoil balls, used straws, empty cans and bottles. It was all part of the landscape, the shifting features of that narrow terrain. The town’s efficient sanitation department would have the alley swept and cleaned each Friday evening, ready for the Monday’s new scatter of detritus. Monday morning, then, Deddom’s would be clean and, in being so, always seemed unfamiliar, somehow eerily alien. Imagine the unexpected calm that came when, one Monday morning when my girlfriend Annie and I were greeted with the sight of a freshly laid scatter of paper spread the length of Deddom’s Alley. We were halfway through the shortcut when it finally dawned on us what was printed on each sheet of paper, everyone different and yet all principally the same.

            Naked women. Come hither looks, orgasmic grimaces, expanses of blemishes, skin, spread thighs, bare breasts, raised haunches, the damp pink flesh of labia, the brushstroke of pubic hair. Annie and I were being mooned, invited and subtly persuaded to envy by these printed women’s gorgeous bodies from practically every deliberately placed page. A group of boys from school, knowing that we would follow (or perhaps they had timed their passage through the alley so that Annie and I – or any girls – would be the next to come through) had decimated their current collection of Playboys and Penthouses for our benefit as a joke. For two virginal female high school juniors such as Annie and me it was quite an eye-opener.

            The joke was repeated a number of times thereafter, always on a Monday morning. The pictures were always gone by the time I and whoever I walked with passed through on the way home that evening. And each time it happened, I was always with Annie. The first time we were horrified and, clutching our books more tightly to our chests, we rushed squealing the rest of the way through the alley. The second time we slowed and began to look. By the third we were avidly studying the pictures, our interest piqued, our natural sense of aesthetics taking over. The women in the pictures were beautiful, after all. The last time it happened we collected a number of the offerings for later study in the privacy of my or Annie’s bedroom. Our motives? What can I say? Our curiosity about sex and the interests of boys our own age was at a natural high; perhaps we sought to use the pictures as a means to understanding the male psyche, what they saw as beautiful, desirable and sexy in these nude and semi-nude women. It couldn’t just be naked buttocks, breasts, backsides and vulva that turned them on, we innocently reasoned.

            When I ended my little speech I would invariably get a several disbelieving comments from my citified friends that that surely wasn’t the worst that had happened in the alley.

            Oh no, I would tell them, mock horror in my voice at the suggestion that they would think that this was the worst of it. That was only an example, I would say. And then I would excuse myself to go to the bathroom. I sometimes timed my absence from the main group to allow sufficient time to pass for interest in my story to die down. I became very good at this. Usually when I returned the subject would have already been changed. Let them think what they will, I figured. It’s not up to me to change their long held preconceived notions. I couldn’t do it even if I really tried.


            Now things have changed once again. I, the ambitious starry eyed girl who left small-town life for her shot at big city life comes home. Never mind the reasons; they ranged from simple nostalgia to being brow beaten with guilt by my parents. It was not that I had “failed” in any sense in my life (neither personal nor professional) in the city and was coming back home to lick my wounds. There were no wounds to be tended. The decision to return home to Jenson, finally, was based on the consideration of what “home” actually was to me. This, then, was to be a test to find out where I felt that I truly belonged. I had known Jenson as a child, the city as an adult. Now I was to learn Jenson as an adult and see if I could fit in without having any feeling (though I feared that, given time, I would) that I was missing something intrinsically necessary to my sanity that could only be found in city living. That was the main reason; the rest of them (nostalgia, guilt, fear) don’t really tally into it at all.

            Anyway there I was, working eight and nine hour days , coming home to a furnished apartment rented from friends of my folks only a few doors away from where I had lived as a little girl. The town had always been compact enough to make walking the most viable means of transportation and, as you might expect, Deddom’s Alley, safe as ever, was once again part of my there-and-back-again line of passage, both morning and evening. The alley was still the same pigsty four days a week, cleaned out on Friday so it was immaculate on Monday mornings just as it had been when I had gone to Jenson High. Monday evenings, though, and the scatter of lunch wrappings and other sundry kid-spoor were there once more. Memory blended with the truth of the present giving me the unsettling feeling that my three year hiatus in the city had never happened, that I had never left Jenson at all.

            There were no magazine pictures of naked women this time, though; that part of the past has yet to be repeated. I did find something else even more interesting, another form of scattered communication, this written rather than pictorial in content. The author was unknown; I was reminded of the literary device of the bottle found cast up on a beach, a note inside from a shipwrecked sailor imploring immediate aid. These pages, however, were not a blind plea for assistance but for a sympathetic reading, even if the writer hadn’t intended them as such. Pages torn from a notebook diary, they were strewn over much of the length of Deddom’s Alley, approximately one damp and tattered sheet per each step I took if I walked in a widely, comically splay-footed manner. Naturally curious, I gathered as many of them as I could that were not too sodden or shredded to take home with me. The pages were neither numbered nor dated so there was no reasonable way for me to discern their proper order or how many sheets I had overlooked or that were simply not to be had. I had to content myself, when I began to read, to pick and choose among the small handful of papers at random, hoping that I could come upon at least a modicum of continuity. I was cynically prepared to be disappointed in my little find. Who, after all, finds any real interest in the daily written maunderings of another human being, especially one who is not known?

            The first two entries, each covering a page with a broad, scrawly script, surprised me in how easily they held my interest. Still the skeptic after my few years in the city, though, I held out little hope that my curiosity would be maintained throughout its entirety.


            The two should go together you know. It makes sense. The theory’s been around as a staple of societal thinking for many many years. Two equals one: love and sex. Read the crap I’ve been poring over since youth and you’re given another idea. One doesn’t equal the other at all. Two different things altogether – apples and oranges – only meeting by the merest of chance. Do because you want it, say those books as they paint graphic pictures on how to. Not because you feel anything for the other person but because it is just there, is possible. Say only I want you and strip off your clothes and she hers. Just something to do, to wile away a few hours.

            Crap, I call it, but it seems that there might be at least some truth among the vulgarity.


            Since about the age of fifteen the stuff has been a main source for me. Definite need for it, seeing that all the real information available at the time was either erroneous hearsay (what did my peers know, being as innocent and ill-informed as I was?) or dry-as-dust clinical directives, all ratios and percentages, charts and tables. To know for sure, to find out was my main motive at the start. Teacher’s Pet was the first, a grey paged paperback with a cartoon cover, then Jack’s Private Harem. Learned the many variations of fuck (noun, verb, adverb, adjective, expletive), the several uses of the word cunt. The differences between cock and prick (size) and the definitions of obscure words like frig, hump, ream and rim. Later delighted with a deck of French playing cards (ace of spades always the best) and then an imported Swedish “adult” publication; thirty two pages, all pictures, all black and white and no questions left unanswered. Pictures; learning what the words in the “novels” truly signified, where the parts were, what they looked like, how to find them with a finger, prick and tongue. What was actually done.

            Enlightenment. I soon could speak with confident authority.


            No comment but this: here is an honest man. I can respect him for that. The next is the third entry, if I have the sequence right, even though it is evident that there is much missing from one to the next. I read it as being by a man in love, though one who is hesitant to use the word. This is definitely no schoolboy writing this.  I find myself wondering if I know or have known the man.


            Woman, I have found you. Thinking of your soft, sincere voice – what do you tell me? Of theater and books, of your business experience, your feeling for friends, family, pets, humanity at large. World issues, hometown politics, the price of a good cut of beef. You keep me interested, enchanted. Five or six years my junior. And how did you become so warm, intelligent, easy to be with? Charming and bright and funny and wise. All that is you. How have I suddenly become so lucky to find you? And how can I stand to wait the next five, empty days until our next date?


            The next one doesn’t seem to fit in any sequence whatsoever. Stick it in here, then; why not? It is a page that’s raggedly torn on the right handed bias, cutting off some of the handwriting on the right side. Back to the porno stuff this time, about a movie he’s seen. Question: is this all that he allows himself in the way of literature and film? Some culture nut, this guy.

            And I have the strange feeling that I have known him. Somewhere, if only in passing.


            The woman arrives wearing only a blouse which reaches to her

knees. A button fronted mini-dress; no panties, she tells the

from the drenching autumn rain, her garment adheres to her sexy

front and back. No line of a bra strap; her nipples are outl

the sopping material. Soon removed. “Warm in here,” she

“Just let me dry off and I’ll be on my way.”

            “Not so fast,” says the man, undressing quickly. Exhi

Desire, lust, sudden need. Slow cuts: faces, tong

Sleek skin, breasts, erection, vulva, bed, she lays d

Arms imploringly, soon joined by the man for foreplay.

Erotically, intrusively filmed. The movie conti

Climaxes – hers, his – slow arcs of ejaculations, re

Always more. Without the use of names, just some

A way to pass time.


            I contacted Annie, now living in Trammel, just thirty five miles east of Jenson. It was old home week for us: we were schoolgirls once again, catching up on old times. There was more than an hour of chit-chat before I could turn the conversation around to my Deddom’s Alley find. She was interested but didn’t have the intensity about it that I did, the one who actually made the discovery. She changed the subject as deftly turning a page. Remember the dirty pictures we found in the alley? she asked . And had she ever told me that she had learned who had done it? Was I aware that there had been only one person involved and not the group as we had originally assumed? No, I said, curious but only halfheartedly so. She offered a name that rang no bells. Funny thing, she said, he had gone out with the guy the summer after our graduation and she hadn’t suspected a thing. Such a shy, stupid boy. I laughed along with her at the irony of the situation but felt far too removed to appreciate what Annie would regard as the consequence of her experience to really feel myself a part of it. I am no longer a part of it, I thought, no longer so emphatically a part of her life as I used to be. Our individual secrets and interests hold little or no charm for the other, their appeal each a singly personal thing. Her revealed culprit and my anonymous diarist mean nothing to the other. The telephone call waned, our voices became vague and unfocused; silences grew longer as we spoke. Our plane of meeting was now a slippery trail on a razorback ridge; Annie and I tumbled off on opposite sides to our own thoughts, understandings and preferences. I hung up the receiver feeling a little lost.

            Back to the diary pages. The guy is in love, though whether still with the same woman or now with another, I cannot be sure. The absence of identifying dates makes the placement of the entry in chronological order difficult and frustrating. Two pages here – have and have not, gain and loss. Each one defined in the writer’s mind, his own perception. After I finished reading them I thought,” What a poor fool this is.”


            She loves me, she says. And she shows what she feels. No provocation from me: it is all her own idea. Though it is an answer to my question – what do you feel for me? – that brings out her singular response. I will show you, she says, my lovely woman does. Take me home. Confused but willing, I comply. Silent wishes arise like steam in my mind that the private words will be there where she lives and that they will be the ones I want to hear.

            What do I feel? she asks me, reminding me of my query to her. She answers with action, not words – and the movie begins again, the face of the woman on the screen is hers. All the dirty stories I have read, all the pornographic pictures III have studied so closely, all the sexually explicit films I have seen now come back to me. And now I am the subject, the protagonist and the star. Love is what she says, over and over in a throaty, lusty voice. Love, she says, she means. This is love? I ask as I pull out of her. Yes, she said, and I do it so well, I participate, I excel. But the word means nothing when used to describe this, what we do, I said. Just do it, I say, and enjoy it.

            No, I cannot believe what she says is true. Just her orgasm talking. It means nothing.


            And the second page….


            Over and done, I told her tonight. She had been what I sought, then became… what I feared? No, nothing to fear; I have slept with enough whores to have lost that fear long ago. What do you want I asked her but stayed her hand from the buttons of her blouse before she could show me again. Is this how you…? I began, but could not continue. After a silence she asked me the same – what it was that I wanted – and I was truthful. Two women, I said. Two names: love and lust. She laughed at me, my woman, my love, and called me a fool, an asshole, a prude and an unmitigated sexist. How had she not seen? she asked, not looking at me. How could she have been so wrong about me? A nervous pause before she went on. There are never two, separate and apart, she said slowly as if explaining to a child. All is one: love and lust, whore and wife, Madonna and slut, always together in one. Go ask your mother. That is she, too, she said, as it is with every woman. Love shown is love shown, no matter the manner in which it is done. Accept it for what is meant by it, not what you think it means. Accept my way, my way of expressing love and if you can’t, if you prefer to call it something else, then that’s your problem. If you don’t see it for what it is, then you don’t want me. Then you’d better leave and let me cry alone.

            Over and done. I thought that she was the one, found her to be the other. She says that she is both. For that, I do not need her. Even if she does tell the truth.


            Last page, water damaged, part of the center gone in places. Crybaby now, he bemoans his loss. He is the same as in previous pages so he is familiar to me. I know him now, at least until the very end and then there is an inkling of change. He learns something or at least seems to seek the possibility. Is this hope talking, or despair?

            I wish that I knew him personally. Maybe then I could ask and truly find out.


            So where now? Who now? No; I ask no more questions. Only demand that

what I know is the truth. Here she is, take her. Here is the other,

 love her. So simple.                                                                        way. One

equals one and                                                                               no equation at

all. At least none                                                                       unt of logic to it.

Perhaps that’s the                                                                   of  fiction, lies.

So where now? Who or what this time? What authority do I seek? At thirty years old, I am as in the dark, as unsure and wanting to know as when I began fifteen years ago. It has happened before; I never seem to learn. Maybe this time. Babe in the woods, looking for a weed covered  path that might                                                                                 at least a direction to

follow. To the truth                                                 actually is. Show me the way and I’ll find it

myself. And hopefully it will be                                               be able to understand, this time.

            Just maybe.


Deddom’s Alley, 9:00pm, vacant, dark, safe as ever. City friends, if you could see me now you would be holding your collective breath, expecting and waiting for the worst. But nothing happens; that is what is to be expected in Deddoms’ in Jenson. Ease of living is the norm, the feared horrors of city living the exception. They cannot believe what the newscasters on TV tell them of city life, these Jenson people.

            I look down the alley to Lacey Avenue and its bright splash of illumination, turn to look the way I have come, can see the churchlike spire of Jenson High in the distance. All is quiet, the alley its usual mess of leavings, evidence of numerous passings-through. I look up, watch a cloud lighten the darkness as it scuds by, cutting diagonally across the narrow strip of sky. The building on my right is a small warehouse stocked with machinery parts. On my left is an old four storey apartment building with its boxy grid of fire escapes reaching down from the roof to the second floor, a hooked up jump-ladder hanging over my head. A hard breeze rattles the aged metal, lifts a piece of paper from a sill somewhere above and floats it down to me: a sales leaflet from a local drugstore. Toothpaste, mouthwash and aspirin, all drastically reduced.

Still looking up, I sigh, aiming my feet homeward. One last thought before I move on: Sad man, have you found it yet? Is it something you can comprehend and live with? Of course there is no answer. Truth be told I don’t even know if the man is still alive. If he is, he has my prayers that he finds what he’s looking for. 

Walking towards Lacey Avenue, homeward, I kick through Deddom’s Alley’s tumbled carpet of paper and trash like a child playfully shuffling through piled autumn leaves ready for burning. Annie glimmers in my mind, a momentary thought causing only a shrug.

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