Friday, May 6, 2011

In a Room Alone - Bonnie Smetts

Marjorie and Renee recovered their composure. They stopped laughing, the tension of the language lesson dissipated.

“That was fun,” said Renee, dabbing her eyes with a silk hankerchief.

“The lesson or the laughing,” Marjorie said. They were still sitting like schoolgirls at Renee’s dining room table.

“Both.” Renee got up and moved toward the sitting room. “Let’s have some tea. I’ll go ask for tea.”

Marjorie followed her friend. She plopped down in a soft chair and looked out at Renee’s garden, a fantasy of flowers and shrubs bearing red and orange blossoms. Even the path was lined with blooms as pale as fresh snow. How did Renee manage to make this all for herself, Marjorie wondered. She could barely point to the space around the pond and say flowers. Not which kind, not what grows here, not what is possible. The view of the garden was a view of her own failure. Another failure here. She lacked imagination. Had she ever have it.

“You look so serious, my dear. The tea will be here in a moment.” Renee said, and sat down opposite her friend. “So should we do our homework together now?”

“God, I can’t think any more. Eleven vowels, how will I remember them? Actually not the sounds, the letters.”

“The first time I studied with a tutor, I put my book next to my bed. That way I looked at the chart when I woke up and before I went to sleep.”

Another easy solution in Renee’s life. “Perhaps I’ll try that. I can imagine Ash’s comment when he sees these scribbling lines next to the bed.”

“He’s the one who wants you to speak.”

“Only because he doesn’t want to have to come fetch me from the police station when I get lost again.”

“Planning on getting lost, then?” They laughed together. It hadn’t been funny, getting lost. Marjorie had never been so frightened.

“What would have happened if they hadn’t found me, or they hadn’t figured out how to reach Ash.”

“Stop it, everything works out. There’s a way. Maybe another year here will wear down your fears.”

Now Marjorie did more than laugh. A choking sound came from her mouth. “Another year here and I’ll be mad.”

Now Renee laughed.

In the Middle of It - Jackie Davis-Martin

My daughter died in the middle of the night, in the middle of the month, in the middle of her life. The following things were tilted, off balance: her placement in the country—the opposite coast from where I was; my own placement in life—on the far side of a lifespan; her placement in her parents’ life--parents she’d never seen in the same house, her attention split between her mother and her father; the fact that she was the youngest in the arrangement she grew up in: her brother and I alternately nagging at her or leaning on her.

Her library’s physical position was at the far end of the upper hall of the elementary school; it sat over the offices, the gym, the cafeteria. It was the central hub of all the classes. The young, and younger, children rotated through each day, learning research on the bank of computers in the middle of the room, checking out books from the circulation desk, sitting around the bright blue rug with alphabet letters she’d persuaded the school to buy for the reading circle.

She was relegated to be in the middle of her friends’ romances, marriages, the family frictions, covering both sides, staying safe; she was never a central player.

It seems odd.

She absorbed my mistakes, my discards. She visited from time to time another man I’d married; she felt bad for him; she attended the funerals on my behalf of parents of my friends, of old relatives. She kept my old brownie pan, the colander, clinging to an order that would be there if she stayed in place; she kept peace with her brother, keeping us all in touch. When I stayed with her, he’d call, and she’d pass the phone to me, back to her, to me, to her.

I think she felt something would happen, something had to happen, if she just kept at it, kept up the balancing.

Her life ended in medias res, in the middle of things. It was intrusive to invade that space, to catch her caught off-guard, as we all did, walking into the middle of her life, pulling through her closets, her drawers, her papers. We—her friends, my husband, my sister, I—all jumped right in, right in the middle of her life and got rid of it once and for all.

“But I wasn’t finished—” I can hear her say. “I’m in the middle of boards; I’m in the middle of paying for this computer; I’m going out tomorrow!”

I found out in the middle of the morning, between the two classes I was teaching, in the middle of my own petty life. “I wasn’t finished!” I cried in my head: “Our relationship has been so worked out; I think we’re really friends, now—it can’t be, it can’t be over yet. We’re in the middle of our plans—”

We were. We’d just talked about what we’d do when I flew out in two weeks: Longwood Gardens, maybe the Philadelphia Orchestra. On the chair of her bedroom were arranged clothes for the evening she never got to see: new slacks, a sparkly top.

She’s been removed, strangely. I remain in the middle of the loss. There is no journey; there is no destination; there is only the coping, the staying afloat, somewhere here in the middle.

In the Middle of It - Kate Bueler

In the middle of it. I am the middle of a conversation of reunited lovers after twenty years. I find myself by the happenstance, the providence, the fate of life. I am not either said lover. Just a bystander who can't move from this seat. Stuck here. Because what will happen next seems like it might be too good to actually move. Scene begins as: man walks in start of beard sprouting, motorcycle helmet in hand, he glances at me and gives me a half soft smile. He finds a seat behind me. A moment or two pass. And then she walks in. In the business causal attire of work. Full of movement and talking. He raises up to meet her. Embracing her around her shoulders. I just never thought I'd see you again. In person. He confesses. In quickness she responds guess you have been giving that a lot of thought. And I'm in. In the middle of this. Because what will happen next is what movies are made of. Not the kind you can rent old school at the video store or netflix or hulu. No the real life of reuniting. I must watch. And see.

And so it begins. The man waits as she orders. She refuses his offer to buy her coffee. She talks at a rapid pace to all those around her, a co-worker, the barista, and even me when I get up for a moment. He sits waiting patiently. To sit across from her again. And then she returns to the seat. They are behind me so all I can hear is their words now. No facial expression or movements. The NPR radio show of love affairs lost. And found.

She begins. And talks and gives the synopsis of her life the last years. Fast and furious and the gentlemen rarely speaks. He tries to give her a morsel of him. But she refuses. The bio of places she has lived. The CV of jobs she has acquired. The snapshot of starting her witty yoga site and her current job. He takes the pause as an opening, when I was shooting those kids. My own eyes crinkle. Oh he is a photographer. And then it gets interesting when the job interview pauses and real life begins. It begins in a story where she realizes her sister set him up with someone after they broke up. I can't believe she did that. I am still going to talk to her about it. Years past not mattering. Are you single? The nod happens but I can't see behind me just in the pause in the back and forth. Next to the discussion of marriage and kids. Have you done it? Will you do it? Conversations of years had before. And had again. She never married and never wanting kids. Until now maybe. I would shit my pants every time I thought a serious boyfriend would want to get married. I would freak out around the holidays. I am not a commitphobe, but scared. Him marrying a woman due to the realities of immigration. I did get married. But it wasn't a real marriage. We treated as dating plus legality. And more words in between until he said we treated it as a real marriage. Everything was great expect the one part that always worked with everyone else. The sex. I thought she would come around. I thought she would open up.

And as I listen and write down on my napkin my only piece of paper a great on the fly notebook. I can't help but think what happens next. Next for them. In this talking. In this reuniting. In this thing called love. But although I am in the middle of it, I got to get up and go. To do what I have to do. In the middle of their thing, I needed to move on to mine. And in watching them. I find faith and remember my own lost loves. Reuniting doesn't mean happily ever after but it fixes the space broken in disconnection. I walk away and feel lucky to have seen. Someone else's reality. In remembering my own.

In the Middle of It - Jennifer Baljko

He sits on the couch, comforting her with long strokes through her blonde locks. He knows she’s prone to momentary lapses of insanity. He’s been in the middle of this before. Not just with her, but with other women too. He doesn’t understand this frequent emotional imbalance. Strong women weakened by the world, not the whole world, just their narrow sliver of the world. An only when something seems to spin off its axis. Something they can see, something he almost never sees. He’s learned it’s better to just sit still and hold her. While he sees the black and white answer, he leaves the whole thing in whatever shade of gray she’s in. Better for him to keep quiet, not offer a new perspective or a solution until she asks for one. And, even if she asks, his answer, he knows, will be influenced by the tone in her voice, and if her claws are drawn. She walks the feline line between lioness and kitten. He must do the same. Or so he thinks. His experience says so. He lets her ramble on, but stops her before the tears come. That’s too much drama for him. Instead he offers to make her tea. He rests her head on the pillow and lets her wander down her darkening path. He won’t let her see him rolling his eyes and secretly shrugging his shoulders. He takes a brief refuge, knowing when he returns, he’ll have to say something – something she may or may not want to hear.

The Most Private Thing - Maria Robinson

The most private thing that you can destroy the photos, the pictures of your lover that you once savored and slept with under your pillow. They can all be flung into tiny floating pieces at the end of the relationship. They could be torn brutally dissected and cut up into tiny black and white dice with your mother's sewing scissors, or you could rip them up as tears are flowing down your cheeks in between shuttering heaves. Instead of utter destruction, you might also isolate them in your house, that is to say purposefully hide them while you're tipsy and then forget where they are hopefully forever. You could also save them, close at hand, to remind you of your youthful folly, your baby love and the life that you dreamed of that got away.

The Most Private Thing/Skin - Elizabeth Weld Nolan

This private thing
lives in public
wrapping blood
and liver,
heart and bone
in fragile armor
to guard us.
Sensing enemies,
it hurls armies
against invasion.
We hardly know
our resident warrior.

It transmits bulletins
by the second:
soft chair, rough floor,
smooth shirt, harsh seam,
cold foot, warm hugs,
cream on sores,
rash from leaf,
forefinger smoothing
quivering bird wing,
thorn alert. This messenger,
this Hermes, speaks
privately until death.

The Most Private Thing - Donna Shomer

A Death in the Family

Tied to my finger
is remembrance.
ribbons so tight
there’s no removing them.
So I make fists, or
put hands behind
my back or sit
on them.

Jeweled dagger through my heart -
it protrudes.
To pull it free would mean
bleeding out. It would be
fatal. So
no tight blouses
and not too