Thursday, August 27, 2009
My father sits at his old wooden desk in the center of the tiny room. The desk has a glass top, and under the glass, reside a few school photos of my sister and me, one of his mother when she was a belle, and none of my mother. The calendar on nailed to a wall stud behind the desk is on January. The naked girl with smooth skin is poised on her hands and knees, her beautiful brown eyes turned to her left, facing the camera. I love being in this private sanctuary of my father’s. My mother has never entered this place.I am on the concrete floor which my father poured one weekend after many nights and weekends of digging the space out. He had driven wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of dirt down to the creek for months to make this small room, he keeps locked with a padlock.
He opens the desk drawer on the right, where, in the front, rest a row of number two pencils, all lined in the same direction, pencil points to the left, virgin erasers on the left. He pulls the drawer further out, has to move his chair back a little to make room, and from the back, takes out a black pouch. He remains still, holding the pouch – gently, carefully, thoughtfully.
I look up from the floor where I have been tracing my finger over the outline of my handprint and the year, 1-9-6-6, which we had etched in November when the concrete was still wet. “Daddy, what’s that?” I ask. “What’s in there?”“C’est mon pistolet,” he replies and pulls a small pistol from the bag.
Just as the “killing” part came to him, a blast from an air horn pierced the morning quiet like a sledgehammer of its own. It was immediately followed by a gunshot, close range. Jumping out of bed, Bert ran to the sliding glass doors and peered outside. Three people were walking quickly down the hill through the rising fog and into his back yard. He recognized two of them, Officer O’Riley and Wanda Chapin, Beastie riding in her big black purse, his head wobbling like a spent jack-in-the-box. The third was a stick thin man in an olive drab uniform, rifle in hand. Bert opened the door.
“What you doing on my property, gentlemen?” he asked, realizing he should have said “ladies” too, but since there was only one, had left it out.
“You should appreciate these men, Bert,” Mrs. Chapin said. “They’re watching out for your safety.” Her hair was disheveled and she was in her bathrobe, a tent of purple valour.
“Mrs. Chapin here sited the lion,” Officer O’Riley said, hitching up his shoulders. “Right above your place. Olson got a bead on him, but the cat ran just as he took a shot. Air horn scared him off.” Mrs. Chapin looked sheepishly at the ground, clutching her horn to her bosom like someone might take it away. The thin man pursed his lips, and looked up at the sky. The sun peeked through the fog, opening a jagged patch of blue.
“Could be wounded,” Officer O’Riley said, punching his radio. “2562 here, O’Riley, requesting back up. Wounded cat on prowl. 256 Sparrow Court Lane. ASAP…huh?…no, not someone’s cat… lion!…no, not African...mountain! Pronto.”
“Best stay in doors, Mr. Grunwald,” the officer said. “If you go out, be mighty careful.”
“One question before you leave, Officer,” Bert said. “What’s the status of my investigation?”
“Yes, Betty Bl…ah, my T-Bird. The vandals. Did you get a lead on…?” He stopped there.
“Ah, well, no, nothing yet.”
Wanda Chapin glanced quickly at Bert, then pulled Beastie from her purse. “Well, snookums,” she said. “How’s about we go home and get some breakfast, huh? This morning is just too exciting for us, isn’t it?” Beastie shut his eyes as if he couldn’t take the world anymore.
After they left, Bert went out to check on Betty Blue. She was still there in all her dented glory, but there was something new, something on the only part of her that had had remained pristine. Scrawled across her trunk in bright maroon lipstick was a message: “Get Rid of This Thing or Die.”
the stream of now: Now I feel their faces
on my palms, my cheeks on their woollen coats.
Now they are whisked out of sight,
two small figures beside the curve,
the great shining curve of railroad tracks
shining back to the Pacific, curving
forward to the Atlantic. I, on track,
slide like a bead on a thread back to them,
forward to here where bare, brown fields
slide by leading me ahead to my life.
In the Terezín of my dream, I find myself in a cemetery for children who perished in Auschwitz. Their brightly colored toys; rag dollies, oatmeal teddy bears, painted wooden blocks, are partially buried in the brilliant green grass and scattered between handsome headstones. But it is not a sad place because the children here are no longer suffering. In the distance, I see my grandmother. She beckons me with a wave of her hand, and as I climb up the hill, I hear the sound of laughter and gaiety, and when I reach my grandmother’s side, I can finally see them—scores of children dressed in their best clothes, little suits and dresses, not fancy but pressed and clean. They have come to visit the graves of the dead children. They reach into a fishbowl filled with polished turquoise stones. Each child dips her or his small hand into the bowl and lovingly places a gem atop each headstone.
When I woke, my eyes were filled with tears.
When I was five, I proclaimed my grandmother my “Favorite Person in the World.” I remember her scolded me saying, “Bubele, you mustn’t say such things!” But from the way she smiled, I suspect she was secretly pleased.
I want to tell you something meaningful about how my grandmother survived the Holocaust. But I can’t. I didn’t know her long enough to know to ask. She died when I was ten.
I can tell you she came to stay overnight when my parents went out for the evening, bringing with her Pepperidge Farm cookies and red Jell-O in a mold. She let me stay up late to watch The Price Is Right. After our program was over I’d leap and bound and spin and sometimes crash about the living room, imagining I was a ballerina in Swan Lake. The way my grandmother took such delight in my dancing, you might have thought I was the next Anna Pavlova, but honesty I have two left feet and not a great sense of direction. Without fail I would dance myself to exhaustion and awaken the next morning to find, as if by magic, that I was tucked into my bed, my ballerina outfit hanging neatly on a hanger from my closet doorknob, and Grandmother snoring softly beside me.
None of us felt like packing this past weekend. My son Stevie and his girlfriend Liezl came over on Saturday with their bathing suits at around noon.
“C’mon let’s go to the pool!” Stevie said excitedly. And we all agreed that was the best thing to do. So we all got our bathing suits on and it didn’t take too long to get used to the now cool water. Funny that when I moved into the Avalon Apartments in March 2007, one of the big “perks” of living there that the staff boasted of was that their sparkling pool was heated all year round – and that they had a lovely Jacuzzi to go with it.
Now, the pool area has been remodeled and the Jacuzzi no longer exists – now there’s a fountain at the end of the pool area, which doesn’t even make sense and the pool is almost as cool as the ocean, but it’s still sparkling…guess even the Avalon wants to make money – it’s hard to believe that the rent they charge won’t even cover pool heating.
Anyway, we swam in the pool and played a type of football game while I sang Beatles songs in the water because I liked the way the songs echoed in the pool area. “I’m preparing for Beatles Rock Band!” I said and the kids just laughed at me.
This was supposed to be our packing weekend – we’re ending our stay here at the Avalon very soon – but instead of packing, what did we do?
I took off for Half Moon Bay with my friend Vikki to watch the Megatones play at a brewery down on a pier, and Megan and her boyfriend went to a party in the Los Altos Hills. You’d think we were in the “jet set” or something when in actuality, we’re bailing out of Avalon World because I can’t afford it – an overpriced “luxury apartment complex.” So there I was dancing and rocking out to loud classic rock music, watching the guys play whom I know so well, especially the lead guitarist, Mike Sult, who is my long-time friend and guitar teacher. He isn’t as showy as some of the lead guitarists I’ve seen, but he can really play guitar – he can play anything.
Yesterday was a wash too – and packing still remains undone and we’re under the wire. I find myself remembering other moves we’ve made, some of them we wanted to make and others we didn’t…
But then I realize that it will get done, and sometimes it’s hard to end things and just leave.
“Roy’s daddy was your daddy, Rawling,” Shirley says slowly, and those words came at me like a semitruck comes rumbling toward me on the interstate. “Roy’s your half brother, Rawling.”
Shirley never knew half of how I knew Roy and she doesn’t know what’s she telling me now. “Roy’s my brother? No, no, no, Shirley. No, you can’t know this, Roy didn’t even have a daddy.,” I say.
“We all have a daddy, Rawling. Your friend Roy’s your half brother,” she says.
And the diner got like I was seeing it through a pinhole. One dot in front of me, and Shirley looks like she all pulled up with her gray uniform and her apron, all pulled up like she’s gonna tip over.
I push open the kitchen doors and run outside the kitchen. It’s dark, and I run to the edge of the parking, past Mr. Curtain’s car. And I throw up, and I’m heaving, and I can’t throw up enough. My guts, I want my guts to come out, and so I keep heaving but there’s nothing left inside of me, except me. And Roy. And I heave again. I can’t breathe, I can’t seem to get enough air inside. I’m spinning holding onto the gravel and I’m crawling around and howling.
“Rawling, honey. Rawling, you gonna be OK, hon,” Shirley says. She’s circling behind me in the dark. “I’m sorry, Rawling. You pushed me.”
“Shirley, I loved Roy,” I’m waling. She just stares at me, the light making a halo around her. “Shirley, I mean, I mean, he and me were lovers, he took me to his trailer and taught me how to make love when I was barely done being a kid.”
And now Shirley’s backing up I see she’s getting smaller, going into the light turned on outside the diner’s backdoor. “Oh, Rawling,” she whispers. She doesn’t say anything else. She just stays right there and watches me roll in the dirt like somebody’s given me poison.
If it isn’t
Broken water mains,
Its pit vipers
With a law degree.
Quicksand of quandaries
Why can’t fixed things
It’s part of the fairy tale
I forgot how to believe.
I want a fat-tired bike
And a radio flyer red wagon
Keds, and shorts, and t-shirts,
And belief in Jiminy Cricket’s
Song – back.
They were lying next to each other in her bed, she on her back, looking up at the ceiling, he on his side, propped up on one elbow.
“So you like the class?” she asked. What did she hear, she wondered, in this perfectly normal conversation that made her feel sad? Wasn’t this the kind of conversation they always had? I learned this, I just found out that. Delighted, they tossed bits of knowledge back and forth. Because they counted on each other to respond in the exact right way. So cool. So interesting. Sam’s neurology class was doing sleep and sleep disorders.
He frowned.. “Yeah. I mean some of it is more like learning physics than medicine but there’s some great stuff, too.”
She nodded. By turning her head slightly, she saw his chest, the skin gold colored in the light of her bedside lamp, the ribs and breast bone visible, the small circles of hair around his nipples. The sheet was up over his hipbones but she knew all the landmarks of his body. She shook her head.
“Sleep,” she said after a moment. She closed her eyes, thinking about a water fall, the moment when forward motion becomes downward. What she wanted was the release of the freefall. She kept her mouth and her eyes closed. One word would be too many.
“I should go then.” He dressed mostly sitting on the side of the bed. She heard pants, socks, shoes. The bed rocked a little and creaked. He put on his t-shirt last, standing now and coming around to her.
She pretended to be asleep, the way she had pretended as a kid in the car to get her parents to carry her inside. His lips on her forehead were cool. He waited a moment then switched off the lamp.
She listened, but he didn’t say anything, just made his way out of the apartment in the dark.
Seeing didn’t help me figure anything out; in fact, it hurt to keep my eyes open, with sand grating. When I rubbed my paw against my irritated lids it only hurt more. What was the point now, anyway? Did I really want to look at all this? Seeing my family, bloodied and crushed by the moving earth? What should I do? Whenever I had been troubled before, I lay down as close to my mother as I could get, feeling the warmth of her fur, and if I was lucky, the sweet trickle off her teat. Her fur was still there. I cuddled next to her and sucked a little milk dripping off her cold teat.
I wished the ground would open up just once more and swallow me. I couldn’t possibly survive anyway.
that your breath moves through;
a tight Texas steer across a timpani
that your sticks beat in time.
I am the hard steel wire
vibrating to the stroke of your ivory.
I am a symphony
in search of your chord.
She had gone to spend the night with her friend Emma. Emma’s family’s farm was a long two miles down the road and luckily she’d gotten a lift on the back of her father’s horse. He was loaded up to make the long trip to visit his ailing mother, but had made room for her and had held her so tightly. At Emma’s, Edith had been content with their play at first, but had quickly grown restless and crabby. Drawn by an unknown force, she’d slipped away when Emma had fallen asleep and wandered down the road in the deepening twilight.
As she neared her home, a decaying old house set back from the road framed with drapes of Spanish Moss, she was drawn to the light of a fire flickering through from the front parlor picture window. Her pace slowed as she saw the silhouette of her mother sitting on the sofa. A man sat across from her and they were talking, gesturing grandly. Edith stood still as a flicker of panic tickled her heart; the man was Emma’s father. And she watched in shattered horror as her mother suddenly stopped, lifted her fingers gently to briefly touch this man’s lips, and leaned in
Young girls with Eastern European and Latin American features lean up on stone walls, adjusting their skirts and tank tops, fidgeting on their stilettos. On the corner, equally young men, shady characters, – a global collection of faces and color – stand with cell phones and scan the street with eagle eyes. Mixing with the bunch, old white-haired men taking long drags on cigarettes watching the circus. Old ladies with their hair done just right scurry by with their shopping carts filled with meat and vegetables. Cops flash their light, sometimes there’s a crack down, usually during the peak tourist season, but often there’s not much that can be done. A hand-made sign hangs off the terrace of a nearby apartment building, begging for quiet nights, human dignity, and a little bit of respect for people who can’t afford to live somewhere.
There’s more than a tinge of desperation circling the scene. Everyone’s looking for something - or at least it seems, they’re looking for something else to do - but they're all sucked into the dismal grayness of ordinary lives lived in a parallel world.
Friday, August 21, 2009
I was in the Battle of the Bulge. (Saul shuffles to a metal folding chair and sits. He motions for me to do the same. It is the day before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.) I was scared because the German army was better. They had better generals. If they hadn’t gone over to the Russians, America would have lost. I was in the 9th Army and trained as a sharpshooter. I scored 170 out of 200. When I got to France, they handed me a machine gun. I didn’t know how to use it. It still had blood on it. (Saul drapes an arm over his cello. It is one of three he owns. The one he holds belonged to the great Pablo Casals. The one I hold is Saul’s.)
After the Bulge, we had to cross the Rhine. It was March. Cold. We urinated on our guns to thaw them out. Thirteen hours later we were on German soil. It was on our way to Ruhr that we saw the castle. (Saul opens his pocket knife and cuts a loose hair from his bow.) I didn’t want to go in. I thought it might be booby trapped. Down in the cellar there were 1,000 bottles of Rhine wine. We spent a week drunk.
Next we marched to Belsen. You could smell it for mile. Just awful. 15,000 bodies in a pile. Children. The Germans claimed they didn’t know anything about it. But the smell—
That’s when I lost my religion.
The chosen people? Chosen for what?
I got badly injured before the end of the war. I was thankful. I woke up in Brussels. The doctor was an amateur cellist. He brought me a cello to play. If it wasn’t for him, I might never have played again. I think about that.
By the time I got to Le Havre there was a stack of mail for me. It had been following me all around Europe, but I was always one step ahead of it. That’s when I found out I had a daughter. Alice Rose. Your mother. My one truth.
(Saul opens my book of etudes and our lesson begins.)
Actually, that might be a good idea.
Well, not exactly. She doesn’t have a bikini body – in fact, she really doesn’t want to look at it herself. But it would be so fun to have some kind of adventure other than smacking flies. There had to be more to life than this. When school starts again, everyone will be talking – or bragging, she wasn’t sure – what they did that summer. The water skiing, the wine tasting, the cruises – how could a trip to Kohls compete?
She needs a story. Desperately. She was too young to live the life of a mealworm. What should she do?
She only has a week left. She put down her copy of Oliver Twist and ponders. She can read it later – the story is entertaining only when the Artful Dodger and Fagin come in. Oliver is too good – he never really does much, just shuffles around London letting the clever people create his life. Nobody wants to read about a halo guy.
The Artful Dodger! That was it! If she doesn’t have the guts to live adventure, she will lie about it – great big fat lies, lies so juicy she will see herself in a new exciting light. People will take notice of her. They will all mutter to themselves, aghast at what little Mary Smith has been up to. Mary will be the talk of the dorms.
She needs to rehearse the story carefully, being far more proficient at blending in than this pilchering business. How do thieves do it? Maybe she should pick up her book again and get some ideas.
No, that was her whole problem. She kept reading about adventure, not living it. Things had to change. If she could imagine the lives of characters in a book so well that she was virtually addicted to literature, then she could certainly create a story for her own life. It might begin like this:
“What did you do this summer, Mary?”
“Well, I drove down to Tijuana. There was some amazing silver and turquoise jewelry there.”
“You? You drove down to Tijuana?Alone?”
“Yeah, why not? I know how to drive!”
“You went across the border to Tijuana? Mary Smith?”
“Yeah, quit asking me that. I saw some bracelets I had to have, then I found a great Zuni necklace, heavy and dripping with stones.”
“How much was it?”
“Six hundred dollars for all of it.”
“Six hundred dollars? I thought you were still making car payments!”
“I am. I negotiated him down to $75.”
“You, Mary Smith, hassled the price from $600 to $75? You can’t even ask for extra cheese on a burger without twitching! Have you started pot?”
“Of course not. So let me tell my story. Suddenly his kid screamed from the back of a trailer. The guy went to check on his kid and left me standing there with the necklace. I started thinking about those car payments. You’re right – I really don’t have the money for this stuff. But I drove all the way down to Tijuana to get something heavy and exotic. I couldn’t possibly leave empty handed. The guy doesn’t come out. No one is around. He can’t be a poor guy, having a trailer. So I kept the stuff on, got in my car, and drove home.”
“I can’t believe it! Where’s the necklace?”
Now Mary was stuck. This was getting difficult. She’d better read up on it. If Dickens couldn’t tell her how to do it, maybe Huckleberry Finn could. Or rather Mark Twain. How come some people could imagine characters so well they felt more real than living people like her? Please God, please let her just, for once in her life, have a summer to remember.
Bobby, Sam and Lisa sat in the front row with the others with the special gold tassels. Honors, honored, leaning back in the folding chairs with their legs stuck out onto the dry grass, flip flops showing under the hems of the black paper gowns. Taking it easy. That was the message of their posture. Never broke a sweat. Watching impassively as the girl at the podium spoke.
The valedictorian was a skinny, nervous white girl, pale, with straight black hair she pulled on, between words. She had the highest grade point average. Also she worked with animals and wanted to be a vet. The future, she was sure, was theirs for the taking.
"Nothing lends itself to irony like a graduation speech," Bobby said.
Sam was sitting in the middle. He shook his head. "C'mon, she's a nice girl."
"Every girl is a nice girl to you," said Lisa. She put her arms out, trying to get some air into the gown.
"Every girl is nice to you," Bobby said.
The kids around them were used to them by now. They either leaned in, trying to be a part of the group, or they looked away, certain Sam, Lisa and Bobby were going to get some kind of comeuppance someday. They think they're so smart.
Well, they were. That was why they were there. Honored. Highest this, most points on that, society of scholars.
"Tomorrow morning when we wake up …" the girl on the podium said anxiously. "We will begin to discover …."
Why do you spend so much time looking back? Sam asked Lisa once. It was the end of something, summer or a vacation or even just a good day. It doesn't help. He was in one of his tender moods; (early on she would mistake them for something more.) You get stuck, you don't see what's coming.
The heat of the sun came right through the cardboard hat and made her feel slightly nauseous. It had been ten days since the fight or whatever it was with Bobby. The longest they had gone without speaking since they met, since the night they met at the cast party for Our Town and they talked for five hours. Do you know? he asked when he called her the next day. We talked for five hours? She felt bad. Terrible even. But. She lifted her hair from the back of her neck and felt the sun there, about to burn her own pale skin. The hair was wet, sweaty. In the car she had said to him, if I could change the way I feel, I would. Maybe. Maybe, she thought. Maybe not.
The girl on the podium was on to the world and the ways they were needed to change it.
I was the kid who at the age of six still could not read a word – or maybe I could read two or three words. It was such an agonizing process for me because of my vision impairment and because I was dyslexic, a sad fact that I really didn’t figure out until later. When I did learn to write my letters, I could almost hold whatever I wrote up to the mirror and read it better that way. It was like I had my own code that no one else could read.
I was burning with stories I wanted to tell and write down and I wanted to read them, but I just couldn’t. Somehow I was blocked, so I had to tell my stories to the kids at school – usually the Kindergarten kids because they were the only ones who would sit and listen, not to all the boys I played with in the neighborhood because they would laugh at me if I tried to tell them a story. Yet we would play imaginary games pretending we were characters in Star Trek or in Dark Shadows.
And so I embraced something I had that my mother and I did share, and this is no lie – music. It all started when the Beatles arrived in our den on February 9, 1964 and my mother became so excited. She yelled to me and my brother and sister who sat on the white shag rug in our pajamas, “Music as we know it will never be the same.” She screamed when those four guys with the funny hair cuts “arrived” on our screen and before it was over, I was caught up in the excitement as we held each other and yelled “She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah!” over and over again.
By the time I was seven, I may not have been able to read well, but I knew every single Beatles song I ever heard by heart – in fact, I knew every single song on the radio or played on our victrola by heart, whether it was the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Mamas and the Papas, the musicals Oliver! And Hair…
And so I bumbled through school barely avoiding the special “mental retard” class at Laguna Honda School in San Francisco. My mother never said I was dumb or anything like that, never. But I felt it. She shared something special with my younger brother Michael who had learned to read by the age of three.
It wasn’t until I discovered phonetics that the floodgates opened. My mother was of the firm belief that phonics was not the way in which to teach children to read, that the old tired and true “sight reading” method was the way she learned to read, so obviously that had to be what worked for everyone.
When my second grade teacher, Mrs. Applan, introduced me to phonics – and this was the latter part of second grade, suddenly it all clicked the way it does when a kid gets that “aha!” moment, like when my son Stevie was five and he spelled out the letters of a “Fred Myers” store sign and learned to read the word, “Fred” and suddenly was reading all the road signs and dragging out all the books – a moment I’ll never forget that resides in my heart forever, when my kids learned to read.
By third grade, I was reading and sounding everything out and by fourth grade, I was near the top of my class in reading, and became an excellent speller as well.
And at the age of 38, two years before my mom passed away, as a single mom with four kids, I sat at my mother’s kitchen table talking about how I was finally getting my bachelor’s degree in English, and she said, “It’s about damned time you studied Shakespeare! What took you so long?”
But I could see a sparkle in her eye and I could tell she was proud.
And that’s no lie.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
drawing the column of curling gray smoke
to bend toward the Buddha and wrap
his serene smile in savory stillness;
bare feet pad along cold wood
creaking and cracking and
downcast eyes peer through
dim candlelight, steering body and mind
to black mounds of rest;
three lazy bells in the chill thin air
“Peggy, this is Bert. What did you do to Betty Blue?”
He knew she had been on vacation, but hadn’t known where she was going. These kinds of details were left out now, the steady wearing away of the need to inform each other of their comings and goings and plans. It had taken awhile for this to happen, their years of loyalty to each other gradually being replaced with new allegiances, little by little, like a long, slow dissolve in a movie.
He could think of nothing else to say over the phone. He was so distraught when he had walked out to the carport to assess the damage that he had lost his voice. It wasn’t just Betty Blue’s left side that had been vandalized, it was her right side too, the whole of that magnificent ’59 T-Bird, the container of all his pride and joy, the protector of his youth and vigor, violated in one unspeakable act. He felt like she had been raped. The creamy sky blue paint he had worked so hard to get just right, the soft curves of her fenders, the long sleek smoothness of her rear end, all had become old and used up over night.
He had talked with Peggy the day before, an uncomfortable discussion about which one of them would file the divorce papers, something she herself was pushing for. She had been so secretive about the trip she was taking the next day, he hadn’t known even if it would be in the country or out. He calculated just how long it would have taken her to get to the Missoula airport, fly into the San Francisco airport, rent a car and drive over the bridge to Walnut Creek. Maybe five, six hours in all? Plenty of time to get here, plenty of remaining night hours to accomplish the deed.
Why hadn’t he woken up? Betty Blue’s smashed fenders and shattered windshield, you don’t make that kind of ruckus without someone waking up. He knew his hearing was going a bit – “I can hear just fine” he had told her when she had commented on this – but he was vigilant about everything to do with Betty Blue. How could this have happened?
“Yoouu, whooo, Mr. Grunwald!” Bert jerked his hand off of Betty Blue’s taillight and looked up. It was Mrs. Chapin, Wanda Chapin, coming down the street with her chitsu Beastie. He was straining on the leash as if he couldn’t wait to get there.
It’s true he can’t cook or do the laundry, but he’s so big I can wrap my arms around him and get that feeling of holding something worthwhile, a good solid hunk of flesh. He’s a purebred St. Bernard, Edward Maximillion Bonaparte Questor is his official papered name, but I call him Max, and he’s okay with that. We both put up with the drool and hair.
One Friday night about a year ago, I was with the guys at Harry’s, and we had two of the big square tables shoved together. Maybe ten guys in all sitting on those fake captains chairs Harry got over in West LA when some fancy restaurant folded. I told Harry those chairs don’t work with the rest of the décor, but he said, “They’re chairs, Roy, not fucking décor.”
He obviously didn’t get the joke, but then anybody who would buy (much less hang) so many three foot by five foot velvet paintings of dogs playing poker and pool wouldn’t know décor if it bit him on the ass.
Any way we were drinking Cuervo shots and beers and I noticed that some of the guys were going at it pretty heavy for the shank of the night and I said so. Then this fat guy from shipping pipes up “Some of us ain’t got all night, Bub. Some of us got to get home to the wife and kiddies.” He said it real sarcastic and I couldn’t tell if he was ragging on me or just dreaded having to go home.
This guy was so fat he had to wiggle his haunches around to even fit into the chair, those curvy arms bit right into his gut, and I could have felt sorry for him. I had a row of shots lined up in front of me and had just tossed back the fourth or fifth one – had my eyes closed and was trying to visualize the poor woman who’d married this bozo when I felt something slam into my chair.
Now I had a nice buzz going from the Cuervo and was concentrating on the sounds Santana was ripping out on the jukebox, so I didn’t notice at first that the fat guy was trying to pick a fight with me. I don’t know why, I’m sure I hadn’t said anything about his wife out loud. But when I opened my eyes and saw him standing next to my chair I cracked up. I mean he was standing there with that captain’s chair stuck on his fat butt like a bolt head stuck in a rusty socket.
I guess I made some smart-aleck remark then about what he had waiting for him at home and he took it to be demeaning about his wife. Because the next thing I knew he was slamming his ass-caught chair into my back, screaming, and poking at me with his chubby fingers. “Listen Bub, my wife is better than any fucking dog you could have!” Well, that just pissed me off, though I may have misunderstood him. I hate it when people don’t remember my name, and I take serious offense when someone maligns my dog, also I’d had those tequila shots.
So I said, “First, my name is Roy you moron, and second my dog is better than any fucking wife you could have!” I never should have mentioned my dog.
Well, you can see how the whole night went down the tubes after that. After some more insults on both sides, a fight broke out. Guys with wives and/or kiddies sided with fatso, and most of the single guys sided with me. A bunch of those captains chairs got busted up and at least four of the dog paintings got smashed over some heads. Can’t say I’m sorry about the paintings, but it was terrible to see all those full liquor bottles get smashed on the floor.
The worst thing was that some people who were there that night became convinced that I have some kind of perverted relationship with Max, since I may have mentioned his hug-ability at some point, what a mistake. I had to stay out of Harry’s for a while and poor Max was embarrassed to be seen with me on the other end of his leash. I think he’s over it now.
Well, like I said, I was in Harry’s again last Friday, although things have changed some. What with the layoffs and guys moving on to other cities, most of the old crew is gone. Fatso got fired a while back – called the foreman Bub once too often I guess. Can’t say I’m sorry about either one. Harry got a deal on a bunch of metal stackable chairs and some fake paintings of landscapes from a Motel 6 re-model. They’re better than the dogs.
I usually sit in a booth now, though the duct tape on the cracked vinyl seats has a tendency to stick to my jeans. I don’t drink shots of any kind, just nurse a few beers. I still enjoy the jukebox, and will engage in conversations of all sorts, but if somebody starts talking about their wife I clam up. And I absolutely never, ever, mention my dog.
“Rawling, you’re pushing me to talk about your momma. She had men around her, always around her, more than after you were born. So really, who knows who might have been,” Shirley says, not looking at me directly.
“I got one picture of him, or someone who’d had to been him holding me when I was a baby,” I say. And now she is looking at me and she’s not looking one bit comfortable.
“How do you know it’s you?” she says.
“Because I found it in the same box where I found my momma with her momma,” I say. “And that picture of me with my daddy, somebody had written my name along the bottom. That’s gotta be me and that’s gotta be my daddy,” I say.
“Well, who knows, it could’ve been just about anyone, hon,” Shirley says. And I guess she’s right but I don’t want her to be right. I want to know who’s who in my life. And I can’t tell if Shirley’s telling me the truth or not. “I could show it to you. Maybe you’d recognize him.”
Shirley goes crazy with this. “Rawling, I can’t be getting involved in the part of your life that’s done, gone and been over with for all these years. I’ve already said enough, sharing what should’ve probably been left alone. Like you should have just left your grandmother alone.”
“And you have to promise me you’re not going back out to bother those nice people. You got to just leave people be, Rawling,” she says. She’s circling the kitchen now, she’s thrown open those swinging doors and she’s making a wide loop around the prep table in the center of the room. Raolo’s pretending we’re not there. And I hope he’s not understanding a bit of this. I feel like a naked person, here talking to Shirley about who I am and who my people might have been or that I even got people.
My momma always said the woman that raised her was all that she’d known about and that was that and that woman, kind as she’d been, was gone. And I’d learned not to ask, ever, and I’d learned to look down at my desk when teachers asked about families. They’d learned not to ask me after the first time or two when it was plain that I didn’t have any thing to say.
“I’m getting that picture, that picture of the man who’s gotta a chance of being my daddy,” I say. And now I’m the crazy one, slamming the back door, running up the stairs to my room and pulling that black box from under my bed.
The Villa Borghese shall be the last to feel my footsteps.
Bernini's Pluto and Proserpina the last to sense my awe.
The wine, sweet.
The music, sweeter.
I shall walk amidst the bougainvillea draped archways
and ancient ruins littered with homeless feline.
I shall stop to watch the street walkers bathe
in the fountain at the foot of the Spanish Steps
and stare down at my alabaster feet atop the ebony cobblestone.
I will raise my dark hair,
wipe the back of my neck
and curse the sun,
only to smile at it's warmth as I once again raise my face to the sky.
I will adjust my white linen dress;
the one with the embroidered hem and tied back neck.
I will make my way across the narrow street
under the women in black beating rugs from their opened windows.
I will watch as they lift their heads
to curse the clouds rolling in from the distance.
I will feel the unexpected birth of rain upon my cheeks.
I will hear my name in the distance.
It will be you.
I will die in Rome on a rainy day.
It will be a Tuesday at 4 pm.
Monday, August 10, 2009
On the floor, one knee up, hands darting, the four cousins sort baseball cards. They lean into the piano, leap into the pool, follow a shifting hierarchy.
They run, sweat, read, cry, fall asleep. Three generations eat roast chicken, corn and sliced tomatoes out in the summer evening, the moon rising hazy gold in the humid night. The children, fueled by food, hurl themselves into the pool for the last swim. The adults sip wine and watch the future.
He’d promised. If only he hadn’t told her those words, circled her with his fancy language, and caused her to forget herself, she wouldn’t be sitting in the upstairs window searching for some sign of him. He’d told her he loved her and wanted to marry her when he returned from Alaska. He had some loose ends to take care of.
At first he wrote to her every day, describing the fishing boat and the harsh conditions of wind and cold, how at night the men would sit in the bar and talk about the poor catch, engine trouble, wanting food that wasn’t from tin cans. He told her of the darkness of the days, the black starry sky and the pure white crags of ice floes in the center of the indigo sea.
It was almost Spring. She found her mailbox empty one day, and she worried that her letter was forgotten on a shelf at the postal annex. A week passed before his last letter arrived and she could see from his handwriting, once a swirl of open scrawls, that maybe he was in trouble: the words were tight and pressed into the paper.
It was so short, only a few lines, that she read it before she could exhale. “Things have not been what I expected, and it’s possible I’ll be delayed,” he wrote. She crumpled the paper and hurled it onto the floor, then picked it up and smoothed it, rereading it, thinking she missed something.
It was when the winds ceased and the sun withered the last green stems that she lost her desperation to find some small hope. He was not returning. The truth was set out in the bright light of long days.
One day, while buying some supplies at the general store, she thought she saw him walk by outside the window. Another time out of the corner of her eye, there he was, turning the corner, his long booted legs disappearing from sight in an instant. Some days she could see the back of his faded jacket, and in that moment she’d blink and he’d disappear. When she saw him, his image, what he had been, a longing bubbled up inside and choked her, squeezing stinging tears from her eyes.
I’m standing here in front of the trailer, beside my car, my Mr. Curtain car, until I see that I’m walking away, up the road. The darkness is after me again, but what am I gonna do. I’m not going to be waiting for that girl and Roy to get back to the trailer and me to ask, honey, can you please move your car so I can get the hell out of here?
I’m up on the road. It’s dark and I’m breathing shallow so nothing hears me. It’s so noisy out here the bugs and godknowswhat in the woods.
“Get me, come and please come get me,” I’m whispering so loud anybody can hear me. “Rand, please, please, please.” Of course Randy’s gonna come get me, she knows where to find me when I’m that desperate. I got Randy, my one friend in all the world, and she’s gonna come get me out of the dark. That’s why I can sit down here beside the road in a ball, and wait. I hold my breath because holding away my air takes my mind off all the noses around me. Come on Randy, come one Randy. Her husband already thinks I’m bad, bad. But for some reason, he likes me too, or at least doesn’t say a word when my life is getting in the middle of theirs.
And finally her lights, I see her lights bouncing down the road. The dust is flying up like a cartoon. I leap up and wave.
“Jesus, Rawl, did it ever occur to you to just stand by the side of the road,” she says. “Scared me to death, you jumping out like that.”
And I’m in her little red car, safe. “Rand, thank you, thank you thank you.” I could have said that a million times.
“So? What happened to your car?” she asks. And then I gotta tell her why I was out to Roy’s even though I’ve promise to be done with that man. “Some girl’s out there in the woods and she blocked my car and I’m not about to wait for us all to come together in front of the trailer to rearrange the parking,” I say.
And then I shut up.
“Rand, I don’t know what to say,” I say. I want to tell her how ashamed I am. That I’ll never get myself in this mess again. But I know that can’t be true. My car’s still sitting in front of Roy’s.
stuffed with garlic, onions and Cajun seasoning
poured from an orange container with brown script.
Fresh white butter beans sauteed with crispy bacon and scallions
simmering on the back burner of the old cast iron stove.
Home grown ripened cantaloupe precisely sliced
and arranged on a delicate porcelain plate.
All served with a chilled jug of sweet tea.
Relished under archways of Crepe Myrtle
gently casting shadows on a freshly cut St.Augustine lawn.
Geese fly over head in an aerial "V".
Storm clouds slowly make their way across an August sky
to offer a much needed respite from the sweltering heat.
A light drizzle.
Soon raindrops the size of the buck shot
spit from our mouthfuls of wild duck
into our crisp linen napkins.
Raising our face to the sky we welcome the rain.
Allow it to wash clean our faces and enter the creases of our smiling mouths.
The rain breaks the heat.
Laughter breaks the silence.
we run for cover to the shelter of our little wooden house on the lake.
Milton Grey had first come to the church three years before, one harsh winter day with the wind blowing so cruelly in the belfry that the bells had clanged inappropriately during Ella’s opening rendition of Onward Christian Soldiers. She remembered that day well because at the discordant sound of the bells she had raised her eyes from the keyboard to find them locked into those of Milton Grey, two pools of cobalt blue so deep and unfathomable she had hit a minor key when the music called for a major. She felt herself coming apart, as if the long relaxing ritual of that morning hadn’t taken place, had instead been replaced by an overwhelming sense of coming off a binge, something she remembered well from her days of hostessing for Harry at the Silver Lounge. She had given all that up long ago, but here it was again, the reeling of the head, the feeling of having been socked in the stomach and wanting to throw up.
He had introduced himself that first day, during the coffee social after the service. He had come up to her from behind as she was talking with Mrs. Colbert about the mayor’s wife’s recent gall bladder surgery. She felt him before she heard him, as if she had backed up to a heater. He put his hand on her arm and excused himself to Mrs. Colbert for interrupting.
“You play like an angel,” he had said, the words whispering around her ear as if the angel he spoke about had landed on her shoulder and was flapping its wings.
Bobby's mother had saved the table. When the house was being knocked down, she had the wrecking men load the table on to a truck and drive it to her little house in Central Phoenix. When they brought it inside, it scarred the doorpost under the mezzuzah and left a long scratch in the dining room wall.
The chairs, by this time, were broken and discarded. For a while, the table sat in the dining room unused, without chairs. Then she got a cloth that fit, to cover its scratches and mars, then she got chairs.
When they were all seated at this table, only Bobby's mother could get up. Her seat was near the kitchen door. That suited her. She didn't want anyone else in her kitchen. Growing up, in the house with the porches and the miles of cotton fields around it, she often felt trapped in the kitchen. Her mother, Bobby's grandmother, had strict standards and a fierce sense of order. She had given up the separate plates for meat and dairy when she came to Cottonwood. It was just too much to keep track of and crazy, the crazy superstition of uneducated people. But how could she give up the sense that every plate, every fork and knife and pan, had a place and had to be in it or there would be a price to pay?
In Bobby's mother's kitchen, there was a pleasant kind of chaos. She liked to experiment with unusual spices and new tools. She was the first person she knew to have a Cuisenart. Bobby liked to be in the kitchen with her. He wanted to learn everything. She liked teaching him -- she always liked teaching him -- but she never quite got over the feeling of even one other person in that room as a crowd.
In high school, when he wanted to have his friends over, she let him make the dinner. It was easier for her, no matter what kind of mess he and his friend Sam made, to clean up after.
I had decided the previous August to go live in Barcelona. I said goodbye to San Francisco, and took a side trip to Croatia to harvest olives from trees planted by my great grandparents. Then, in January, to kick off the new year, I would start my fairy tale life with a guy I had come to love through long-distance calls and email. It was supposed to be perfect.
So why was I crying almost every day? I was completely coming apart. Nothing during these last few winter weeks felt right. I couldn’t speak Catalan or Spanish. I didn’t have any friends I could go grab a coffee with, and I kept getting lost every time I left the apartment. It tipped for the worse when I unknowingly bought a chicken with it’s head still attached, and had only a dull paring knife to saw at its neck of before I could roast it. I don’t know what was more pathetic – the dead chicken with it half-cut neck drooping over the sink, or me, the 35-year-old-woman blabbering foolishly to the dead chicken. “Why does everything have to be so hard,” I wailed. I leaned against the countertop and bawled until I was shaking. I had nothing, nothing I could call mine. Nothing was familiar. I just wanted something, anything, a sign of sorts, showing I made the right decision.
What I had was a really good guy who tried to comfort me. We both wanted this to work. It was new territory for both of us, and we had growing pains. Me worse than him. But, he made me feel safe. Safety wasn’t a substitute for familiarity, but at least I had that. And, that was a good start.
Max chuckled. “Yeah. Like we have a choice?”
Carl smiled and playfully slapped his brother on the forehead. He looked at his twin brother silently. The operation was scheduled for tomorrow morning. It was a very dangerous procedure, but the two understood the risks and decided that this surgery was quite necessary.
“Are you … scared?”
“You mean about tomorrow? Sure. Of course I am. Who wouldn’t be? You?”
The twins were lying next to each other in the same hospital bed staring at the ceiling. This somehow felt familiar to Carl.
“Max, do you remember that old baseball diamond near our house? We use to play pickle and shag ground balls? I remember how we use to lay on the ground, looking for shapes in the clouds. This kinda feels like that.”
Carl raised his head slightly towards his brother. “Uh, yeah. Except we’re inside, and those are ceiling tiles.”
“So? There are a lot of black specs in the tiles. If you squint, I bet you could make something out.”
Carl suddenly gasped. “Wait! Look! I see the Virgin Mary! It’s a sign!”
Max tried to find what Carl was looking at. “Really? Where?”
“Nothing. I’m just kidding.”
“Jesus!” Max exclaimed.
Carl shrugged. “Nope. He’s not there, either.”
Max groaned. “Oh, very funny! Hey, I gotta take a leak. Help me up.”
With a count of three, Max and Carl sat up from the hospital bed. Carl was on the side of the bed closest to the bathroom. Both brothers began shuffling towards Carl’s side of the bed with Max pushing off with his free arm and Carl using his free arm for stability. Once Carl cleared the bed, he was able to help his brother up. They walked together side by side to the bathroom. Carl shuffled his way in front of the toilet and stood there. Helping his brother walk those several feet had taken a lot of energy.
“What are you doing? I’m the one that needs to take a leak.”
Carl shuffled a couple of fee to his right which gave Max enough room to urinate. The room suddenly became deathly quiet that was interrupted by the sounds of water splashing. Carl leaned against Max to ensure his brother maintained his balance. When Max was done, they both shuffled back out into the room and sat on the bed. For a long moment, neither brother said a word.
Max finally broke the silence. “Carl.”
“Look. In case something happens tomorrow. I mean, if something should go wrong …”
“Shut up!” hissed Carl. “Everything will be fine. They do this sort of thing all the time. All the time! It’ll be fine!”
Max paused then nodded. “Yeah. You’re right. But, just in case …”
“Max, goddammit, I swear …!”
“Look, just let me say this, okay?”
Max took a deep breath. “I just wanted to say, that in case something might go wrong, I wanted to tell you that it’s been friggin’ pleasure being your brother. I mean that. We’ve been thru a lot together, and if everything goes well tomorrow, then we can finally live our own separate lives.”
Carl shoulder bumped his brother. “Yeah, living separate lives would be a blast. If would take some adjustment, but I know if I need any help, my brother will always be at my side.”
Max flashed his wry smile. “You mean like how we are now?”
Carl just shook his head at his wiseass brother. “You’re a jackass! You’re lucky you’re not just my brother, but you’re also my best friend.”
“Aww, how sweet.”
“Shut up. Let’s get some sleep. We’ve got a long day ahead.”
Max began his familiar crab crawl toward his side of the bed. As usual, Carl was right next to him.
A whole morning, unplugging cords, replugging them, waiting for a new screen image, anything but “communication not available” between the stupid computer and printer . This black tangle of spaghetti cords has frayed my nerves and left me with a case of technological shingles. This has been going on for three long hours. I call for my son to doctor this infuriating worm of modern life. He doesn’t have the right meds. I am itching, I am scratching, I am pulling cords and pulling my hair. What am I going to do?
This contraption is nothing but a plague that reduces wanna-be-Shakespeares to wanna-be-geeks – anything, anything, to get over this frustration.
I just wish it would scream with me.
I turned the air conditioner on full blast in the car but even that took a few moments to cool down the boiling hot car – what the heck was I doing here in this weird dusty town in the middle of nowhere, working at a hospital making a fraction of what I made when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area – at probably not only the only word processor job in the town of Porterville, but the only word processor job in Tulare County I was sure.
People told me that $12 an hour was good, real good for Porterville – way better than the $8.50 an hour that one law firm wanted to pay me. Unbelievable.
And it was hot, 100 degrees even at 5:00 pm. What was up with that? All I could think of as I drove to Westfield School to pick Megan up from the Yes After School program at Westfield School was how could I cool off?
I pulled up in the parking lot next to the store and got out of the car again feeling the wall of heat and the clammy skin. I walked into the gym that felt nice and cool. Megan practically knocked me over. She was so happy here in Porterville, happier than I’d ever seen her. It was the one thing that kept me going, seeing how happy she was, waving at all of her friends.
“You wanna go swimming?” I asked.
“Yeah!” Megan and I walked to the car and I told her to be careful of the seat belt because it might be hot. Gary was taking a nap and he never wanted to go anywhere anyway, so we put our bathing suits on and I headed out to the swimming hole up in Springville for the Tule River – there was a perfect spot to swim in cool, clear water – at a place that always made me think of that Credance Clearwater Revival song, “Green River.” Come to find out, the John and Tom Fogarty of CCR actually had association with family in Porterville and even have a song on one of their albums called “Porterville.” It doesn’t paint the most positive picture of Porterville, though.
I often wondered if they used the Tule River to write their songs such as Green River and even Born on the Bayou. I mean, when were those guys ever at the Bayou? This was probably as close as I’d ever get, I thought as we parked the car up in Springville, about 10 miles up into the foothills from Porterville, and we walked down the hill holding our towels, feeling that wall of heat, until we could get ourselves into the clear, cool water of the Tule River.
It longs for the days of satisfaction and delight; the days when the children came. They came with their mothers, their fathers, or sometimes with both. The touch of tiny soft fingers made it smile- brought it to life, and made it complete. The sounds of the laughter kept it strong. The smell of ice cream and candy gave it sweet satisfaction. It had a purpose, it had a life, and it knew what it was born to do. It is in this purgatory that it waits for an absolution.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
I was mesmerized by the wind; blowing her long blonde hair and the red poncho in perfect agreement. I remember the smell of the salt water. The sounds--the gulls, waves crashing so restless, bright white sunlight burning my eyes. . We never wore shoes. I can still feel the tarry stuff on my feet; it gets in the sand from the oil wells drilling across the coast Hwy like angry black steel horses. I remember the smell of her cigarette smoke mixed with salt air and her perfume. You had to walk carefully, over the rusty tin can graveyard. We just walked-- carefully walked.
And angry; strings knot our feet.
Let’s go out and walk.
We cross to the old graveyard.
Evening sun splashes the lawns.
Slim, ancient headstones
Lean away from the path,
This one thrown down
In some rite of teenage mischief.
Behind us, our children
Wobble on their bikes,
Riding, safe, in this quiet place.
As the sun tips into twilight,
My hardened heart grows soft
And we turn back toward home
To try it all once again.
Once, when he was first in New York and she was in LA, she followed him while they talked, down this street, past the sleeping man, around the corner, all the way to the Village. He bought cheese Danish and described it to her while he ate.
This might be the first time she has ever seen his name on her caller ID and not picked up. For one thing, it is late where he is - it's ten in Hollywood, one in New York. She's sitting up with baby Franny in her lap, at a window trying to catch a breeze from the canyon and Franny has just drifted off. Lisa's husband Will is still at work. It's pilot season and he is shooting, someplace out in the dark, something about detectives and vampires. (There is a little seasonal burst of filming everywhere in the city At the bottom of her street, there are motor homes and trucks. She can hear the generators humming even from her window.)
Bobby wants to talk to her about his book. His novel. He comes home from his lab and he writes. She suspects he drinks while he writes but that may not be true. Even in the days when they all took drugs together, when the purpose of a weekend was to get high on something that would help them figure out the meaning of life, he was reluctant.
He is physically frail. She knows that. He always has been. He is frail and he is small. She sees him at his computer screen, where she has in fact never seen him. She has never been in the apartment that is behind the window he has located for her, counting three up, two over. One room and a kitchenette, which is all he says he needs.
The one time she was actually in New York while he was there, they met at the Second Avenue Deli and talked awkwardly while Will was in a meeting up town. She was pregnant but hadn't told anyone (even him, that was strange) and the smells were oppressive.
She just didn't want to talk to him about this writing project. He was a scientist and that was fine, that was the sweet, clear world he belonged in. (That would make him mad, she knew. Saying that science was clear.) She looked down at the baby who pursed her cherub lips and burped. Franny eyes opened for a moment, round and blue and surprised, apparently by the burp, the body, being alive, then she closed them again. I am supposed to be the writer, Lisa said to her little girl. Me. The light on the phone stopped flashing. He was leaving a message, she knew. It would be long and complex and specific. At first, the details would overwhelm her.When they were in school together, he was always the one who saw the pattern in the text, who made the perfect connection. It always made her doubt her self, her prized ability to understand. The old question, who is smart and who is smarter, that she had kind of learned to live with, would roll through her -- belly, heart, the place at the base of the throat, the lips, pressed together. Silent. She heard a siren down on the boulevard. .
Crow called out when he found the light switch, and cursed when he figured out Hawley disabled it. It just made them madder, cursing him, talking trash, until they made it half way down the row, and their lights found him under the desk, and held steady. Hawley peeked over the bags, saw where they were, saw the handguns as their raised them toward the Tate let loose with another volley of expletives. They were halfway down the row and the beams of their flashlights glinted off the wires that ran from the stacks to underneath the desk to the clacker in Hawley’s hands. Hawley ducked down, as tight to the ground as he could and clicked the device three times setting off four claymore mines, shredding the two men trying to kill him.
“I can tell you’re not from here,” this nice man says. “Because if you were from here, you wouldn’t be walking along the water at this hour. Might be running like that crazy guy up there.” He points to the path that runs in front of the apartment buildings, my apartment building. I want to just think about the ocean here and my brand new apartment but he’s talking to me.
“After awhile, you’ll just get used to it, the water being here,” he says. “I come down on my way to get my coffee and I check it out each morning.”
And that seemed like a nice thing to do. I was doing just that except it was more like meeting the ocean for the first time. And so we’re walking along, this new man and I and I’m not sure I want to be but he’s nice enough.
“So, I’ve asked in the most round about way about you…where are you from?” he says. He’s smiling and turning to me as we walk. The sun’s coming up behind his head.
“Nordeen, I’m from Nordeen, and yes, I just moved in,” I say, half annoyed and half liking his smile.
“Nordeen? That sounds like the name of somebody’s aunt,” he laughs, and for minute it seems like he’s laughing at me. “Must be far away.”
“Nordeen’s about four hours from here, in a slow car. That’s how long it took me to get here,” I tell him. And I remember how slow I went, creeping down the roads, terrified about driving some place I’ve never been but want to be. It got sunnier every mile I went with a brightness that started to hurt. I’d pulled into a gas station and bought a dark pair of sunglasses, big round and black. The darkest one I could find and then I drove straight on to this ocean where I’m standing right now.
“I’m from four hours from here, up across the state line, not too far from Mansville,” I say. He’s smiling and looking at me as we’re walking along. And then I decide I don’t want to be going any further. “I gotta go now, I gotta go back.”
“I’ll walk you back,” he says.
“No, no thanks, I’d rather have some time here without anybody around,” I tell him.
“Well, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” he says, now looking like I hurt his feelings.
“No, it’s just, I’m just, yeah, I just like to be alone in the morning,” I say. I have no idea if I like being alone or not. I’m just feeling squeezed by this man even though the ocean’s on one side and it goes on for farther than I can see.
Then, one day, he was running a little behind, so he took to the walking trail behind the parking lot about thirty minutes later than usual. He was adjusting the volume to his iPod when a woman in casual business clothes and tennis shoes blew right by him. Joseph had always considered himself a fast walker, so to see someone who left him eating her dust definitely caught his attention. He tried to catch up to her, but she maintained a significant lead of several feet. It took only moment for Joseph to recognize her. He would know that that blond hair anywhere. Sure enough, in case he was mistaken, after she finished her walk, she paused for a moment to check her pulse, and Joseph could see it was indeed Miranda that had been walking ahead of him. From that point on, Joseph changed his walking schedule to match hers.
His first plan to officially meet her was to run into her right before walking. However, her schedule fluctuated, so he Joseph could never really nail down when she actually started walking, and he couldn’t stay at the same spot waiting for her without attracting attention. So, his only recourse was to stand outside and wait for her. However, because she was walking so much faster than he, it was almost impossible to catch her. After the first several times of eating her dust, Joseph finally realized that he needed to improve his conditioning in order to catch up to her.
So, after work, he started to do some running. Not really hard in the beginning. It was really more like race walking, but he started to do it up hills and carrying a stopwatch to compare how fast he could move. It actually took a few more weeks before Joseph was finally able to catch up and keep up with Miranda. When they finally reached the end of the trail at the same time, Miranda didn’t say anything while she took her pulse. Joseph pretended to do the same. He was about to introduce himself when she spoke first.
“Hey, you’re getting a lot faster. I’m going to have to watch out for you from now on.”
Joseph smiled and introduced himself. From that day on, their walks became slower and longer, but always together.
Don’t call me. I am sick of it all. Literally. My eye lids feel like water balloons, I can’t stop coughing, and the only thing I have to look forward to is night time again, when I have the excuse to take my codeine. I can’t even work out my tension at the gym (you would think my abs would be getting tighter from the hard push of my coughs and sneezes, but such is not the case). I wish I could get a nose transplant. And a heart one too, for that matter.
I can’t breathe.
Everything is deteriorating. Maybe it’s my fault. I was too patient for too long. I don’t want to hear any excuses, though. I have just had it.
The sad thing is, I have no idea what’s going to make me feel any better. I have no hope for our relationship, and yet it is empty without it. If I look back on the way you made me laugh and smile, it brings a moment of pleasure, followed by a worse ache. I don’t know what to dream about in my future. You were my future.
So I am in this odd spot of wanting you to call, to see it all meant something to you as well, and at the same time, not wanting to hear your voice. Someday the calls will, in fact, stop. What will I do then?
I release my squeeze on my cell, and put it down. I sneeze out viral impurities and open a new box of Kleenex. Don’t kid yourself. It’s only for my cold.