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Thursday, February 26, 2004

Vexed


It was a day like any other day since the day that we flew over the barren steppe of yesterday like some morning fog of amphetamines and hangnails on a dead stripper’s body floating in the river of dreams somewhere of the coast of this side of forgotten. I can’t say that what we had was anything more than what it could have been save for the mountain slides that soothed our sorry souls and gave us that regrettable cherry bomb aftertaste. I wish it were more too, sweet heart but as things were and are we can only be assured that the problems with each of our microcompressors imbedded deep inside our selective and slippery slopes of cinder and cyanide will come to rest upon the kindest of kings in that mournful cry in pink hollow verse. I gave the followers away that day.

The next step was of course to recover the missing zylon that you know what and where complained about in the pictures of the following newspapers:

The Daily Correction
The New and Improved York Times
The Inspection Continues


So, naturally I began my studies in the long and seemingly impossibly lit container of feeling and foulship. I found myself whistled without much to do with the whistle and I was as one can be in such a time stunned beyond reckoning the coming times that would pass over us and absorb our blankets of thoughts and smokes. It was more than a cloud; it was something like that which I could only exacerbate the meaning of once I concluded that the zylon was indeed somewhere whence the Stone Age could not have accurately predicted even if it were to be somewhat elemental to that fact. To go on with is indeed to further subjuncticate ourselves to more and more of the code in which we are all desperately wanting to know how and when such a thing could have been so horribly solidified under that kind of microscope. It boggles the compassion of nearly everyone I have thought about skipping down some long forgotten memory lane in my latest version of mental pornography. If you catch the gift of what I am saying here, it wasn’t like the teenage dreams we had as children but those of ours that we kept long after the books were due on the pain of pelting papa and had subsided to some rudimentary game of silence and long counting until someone somewhere, probably in a closet of our least expected surprise of the spaghetti evening, came crashing down around the bed of wickedness and forgiveness. Much like how I imagine she was when she first read those papers over the grinding noise of what I can only say must be a classic forgery of metallic flavoring in the sweet, no bitter, wine of morning which of course has better names to be captured upon the written walls of historic falling. I do so agree.

To count off where we went to later is really best to play with the flux nature of childhood secret planning sessions. You know those ones where the flame of Barcodes were still implying the meaning of golden gates and dragoons swooping down around cotton fields or corn fields, which ever more applies than what could have been the nightmarish stick figure manuscript of Sancho in what I call now our hour. In so being that is, I say that we go on without stopping to stop and getting what was over the yonder hills because it is too late for such tomfoolery and as it was I remain wishful of such strategy to complete me in the finality of what the last King said could be the trumpeting of the quintessential newscast in the quintessential flash of criticism in light of the missing zyon. It plagues us and will so, my friend we be off?

The closing of Carracus didn’t disenfranchise many a player upon the wick of flights burning fancy but did place he whom has not the world’s wicked place upon the wood that is and was carried back and forth to the gallows. Like all days gone and some not yet there we shall see such magnificent people again. Do not cinch your belts too soon my love. I have such action as it may require you once more.

So with that I leave you with completeness of my vernacular and without questioning of motives. Once the zyon is found I fear that all else will be forgotten and misplaced once again in some wheelbarrow, a red one perhaps, and what then will nature say to this but “Oh my.” Once again I can’t even imagine the daylight without something of a clouded man carrying or walking with a dog now can we? So say, stay, by the sea shore and never worry about seeing what you do not have if can only be wings to what was otherwise a dead cancer but now sprung lose in your heart. Mark me, dear friend, mark me and stay it well within the ears of treasure keepers however you may find them in your past filled past. It will be the case.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

the purpose of green in the bikini machine shop


The bikinis passed overhead on hangers, dripping their green dye onto the floor, tapping undecipherable code as I considered the events of the previous day. I remembered Gregor Samsa and how he couldn't stop dropping things as he crawled from exit to exit inspecting the amount of light coming into the factory.

The first of the week was always the most difficult and unaccommodating as pressers relaxed in anticipation of the coming days. It took a heavy toll on us and I fear that it will last until the day we die. Minutes are stolen quietly in such places and dropped into someone else's clock before we realize what has happened. But I know because I have deciphered the code.

The first tap of the drip green is a lie but I am not fooled. Fair bright fading kiss. Kill and kill and kill I'm riding my bicycle-bicycle home.

It was simpler when it was only once upon a time, before the nimble life or a beheading to order cracked like a nut from paradise to inferno with just this laid bare in between. This.

Fucking thing. I twirl between two fingers and roll into the palm of my hand.

But what of the noise? And the grinding? And the textured electricity that hides rage behind something called—I don't want to say…

Gregor Samsa said let us be numb and give language only shells to batter. Not cannonade or abuse or hit or stamp or punch or kick or drub or assault or pummel.

Legs walk and compass remote from my expectation. There were high windows all round and the way someone stood with their head down told us nothing. And I knew that it was always like this––that silence told us nothing even though we were led to believe otherwise and think of our paltry moments as gifts holding mystery.

Once upon a time:

A boy received a hat for his birthday, wore it to school and made lights change along the way, made other kids spell hard words, made them run faster when they played.

Once upon a time:

All I ever wanted was everything and to live between the tops of trees.

tap…tap…tap…tap…

Green is the color of my genie. I'll say it (swinging) again because (unthunder) it doesn't seem (slow motion rhino) to be getting through.

But there is work to do in the bikini machine shop and the bikinis pass overhead on hangers, dripping their green dye onto the floor. I hear the whistle-not-proper connect me to ear-transparent's wunderkind though not enough to hide the tapping uncoded second pause. A movement glib with skin and blood and the stretching of their connection. Pulled from the bone and nibbled on by impending.

It's been wonderful.

But where is the girl? She is there. Sitting two rows over by the wall. Black hair down to her shoulders, covering most of her face but not enough to stop me from wanting to reach across space to touch her.

That small piece of skin is enough for now.

And then the bell rings and the bell rang and the bell will ring and the bell would have rung and the bell should have rung and the bell could have rung and the bell is ringing.

Once upon a time.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Eva


Egeziaca wonders who she will be, after the man at Ellis Island takes her name away.
She is Eva now, and she watches her reflection . All the way to San Francisco, she stares at her herself in the train window. In the daylight, she is a ghost, a fog drawing of a girl floating past farms and fields.

She keeps her hand against the window at night, when Eva is clearest.

She thinks that there are two of them now.
Only Rosa is happy with her name. Rosa Vivadalina is Rose Violet now.
When the man changes Egeziaca’s name, he jabs an indifferent finger at her. “You. Your name is Eva. E-va,” he says, and the christening is sharp and brutal. This is how the world treats a big nosed girl.
But Rosa, he smiles at, and he thinks for a while before scratching the letters onto the papers. “Rose Violet,” he says, pleased with his own poetry. “Pretty as two flowers,” he says, and he rests his hand, priest like, on her auburn curls.

Egeziaca wants Eva to be pretty. She hopes, she prays, she keeps watching. But it is a bad name, the name of Adam’s wife. It is the name of one who will listen to serpents and steal fruit. It is a curse more than a christening.
“Stop crying,” her sister who is now Dorothy tells her. This Dorothy is sharp and angry, and Eva wants Dovozia back. She stops crying, but bangs her feet against the wall of the train. Her boots are big and ugly, they belong to her brother Mico. She wants American shoes with thin straps and designs cut into the leather.
She wonders if she will steal some new shoes, because she has the name of a liar and a thief. She looks in the window, and when Eva looks back, her eyes look dark and waiting in the dim light. Yes, it is the face of a bad girl.
It is cold in America. The train is dirty. Their mother doesn’t listen to them. She looks far away, silent for the first time in their lives. She is a new person too.
Eva wonders if her mother’s husband will be someone new. Perhaps he will become a good person.

“Look,” Aunt Helen says to me, and she opens a black leather photograph album. It is held together with black cord, and the pages are black paper. It has a funerary look.
“Here is your nonna,” Helen tells me. “Just as she looked when I met her. And your Auntie Rose.”
The old women lean close around me. They are the witches from Macbeth with butterscotch candies and lipstick. They summon ghosts from photographs.
Here, here is Eva, six years old, with arms like twigs and knobby ankles, and Rose, only eleven months older, sweet and plump. Her hair waves marcel like above her braids. Helen sits between them, staring at the camera from beneath a shelf of straight bangs. She has a big bow on her head. Her arms are wrapped tightly around both sister’s necks.
Eva is in the shadow of the photographer. Only her nose catches the light, as if someone cruelly planted a potato on the little girl’s face. Her expression is dark and solemn.
“Peh,” says my grandma. She is the first to turn away from the picture. She watches me instead. She strokes my hair, she fusses with my collar. “They had no damned business taking away my name,” she says suddenly. “What kind of a thing is that to do to a little girl?”
“Look,” says Rose, pointing at the next page, “Ma and the old man.”
They never, in all my life, grant him a name.
The grim faces on the page mean nothing to me. I pass my fingers lightly over the surface of the picture, waiting for a message.
My grandma looks at me, and says something that doesn’t fit with her old lady beauty shop hair and her department store blouse. It doesn’t belong on the yellow table.
“I killed him,” she says. “He was an old bastard.”
Helen shakes her head and makes soothing noises, and Auntie Rose smiles a secret, quiet smile.


He tells them they must not leave the house when he is gone, because they are stupid and will get lost. He tells them they must not play with the children next door, because they are Irish and have bugs.
When they come into the small wooden house, he tells them this is his house. His. At home, the house had belonged to Eva’s mother. He has piles of dirty clothes there in canvas bags, stinking with fish slime. They belong to the men who work on the fish boats, and he tells Eva’s mother that this is what she will do in America. She will wash the fish guts from clothes. He keeps the money she earns as a laundress.
Because she is Eva and will go to hell anyway, she spits into the condensed milk he uses for his coffee. Nobody else is allowed to drink it. He needs it, because he works, he says.

Eva watches. She watches her new, silent mother and her new sisters Mary and Dorothy ruining their hands in the lye soap. She watches the fog outside the windows and the little girl from next door that she may not play with. She watches her brothers follow behind the old man as they leave for the boats every morning, and watches them exhausted and silent when they return at night. Stefano is Steven now, and Steven doesn’t sing. Mico has become Michael, and is too big to play. He comes home covered with fish slime, and sleeps over his dinner plate.
Her mother’s husband is only kind to Rose. His fish hands stay too long in her pretty hair, and Rose does not have to help with dishes or laundry, because he likes her to sit on his lap in the evening.
He does not call Eva by her new name. He calls her NasoGrande. Big nose.

At night, Eva whispers stories to Rose. The old man will die, and they will find money. He has hidden gold somewhere. Her spit in the can of condensed milk will poison him.
They will all go home, to the white house with the red roof, as rich as queens. They will play up and down the warm streets, and wade in the blue sea. The sun will be shining, and Visco will come and marry Marija who won’t have to be Mary anymore. They will dance at the wedding in American shoes with tiny heels and little straps.
Rose floats into sleep on dreams spun of convent lace and wine colored roses.
Eva stays awake until the cold house is dark, and the only sound is the heavy breathing of sleep. Then, every night, she makes a spitting noise into her fingers, and flicks them with hatred at the wall that the old man sleeps behind. “Die,” she whispers. “Die.” Her breath shows like smoke in the air, and she watches the curse shimmer white in the night.

He dies an impossible death. He is killed by a tuna.
They bring his body to the door, a policeman and two men from the fishing boat. They have no Italian and no Slavic, and her mother has only a few words of English. But this is what the policeman says. He points at the blood soaking through the shirt tied around the old man’s head, and says over and over, “Il tonno.”
He leaves quickly, shaking his head.
“Stupid Americans,” their mother says, after the policeman is gone. She seems more mystified than concerned with her dead husband. “What does he mean? How can you be killed by a tuna?”
They all stand around the body. Nobody cries for the old man. They stare at him as if he is a bad cut of meat that has been delivered by mistake.
Eva pokes him, to see if he is really dead.
“Egeziaca!” Mary exclaims, and crosses herself.
“A tuna,” her mother repeats, frowning. “What kind of tuna can do this? Did it bite his head? How big are these American tuna?”
They are more words than she has spoken for eight weeks. Eva thinks that the old man has stolen her mother’s voice. Now that he is dead, it is back.
Rose reaches out, and takes Eva’s hand. “Magic,” she whispers, and their eyes trade secrets. “It was a magic tuna.”
“It was no magic tuna, it was a stupid American that knows nothing,” their mother says. “This. This can’t be.” She bends down, and begins unwrapping the shirt from his head. “You little ones, go outside and play,” she orders.
For the first time in weeks, Eva and Rose leave the house. The grass is frosted and cold, and crunches beneath their shoes. They take the coal shovel from the back step, and begin to dig through the patch of yard, searching for the hidden gold.
The little girl from next door comes to join them, a big bow of pale blue silk shining on her pale hair. She smiles at them, and they smile back. She points at herself. Her name is Helen.
Egeziaca hesitates for a moment, and then points proudly at her own chest.
“I am Eva,” she proclaims, and she feels a swell of power. She has saved them all. She is only six, but she has killed an evil man.
They play digging for buried treasure in the sun. Blackbirds fly past like secrets with wings. Helen’s mother bakes a cake, and they sit in the winter sun with the taste of cinnamon and walnuts in their mouths. Helen has a jump rope, they spin it against the street and she teaches them a song.

When Mico and Stefano come home that night, they say that the fish was an ordinary fish, and not an American man-eating tuna. It was just an ordinary tuna that fell from the net and the old man slipped on it and hit his head on a sharp piece of metal as he fell.
Eva knows better.


When there is a sale on canned tuna, Eva and Rose drive together to the Piggly Wiggly Mart, and buy it by the case.

“You should always eat a lot of tuna,” Grandma tells me. “It makes you strong. It makes you smart.” She strokes my hair while I eat my sandwich, and says both my names three times, like a magic spell.


Thursday, February 19, 2004

L.H. says it's too Jane Austen-ish. Well...it is what it is.

STEPS

In a far country lies an ancient coast, subscribed by tides.

The library held its annual discard sale and it was there, in a travel book, that I found the timeless image of earth’s crust shouldered up against earth’s water. I carried the book home with me and dreamed. Years went by. When the children were grown and stepping into independence, I took the left fork in the road and stored or sold the collections of my life. I went to London.

In New Compton Street I lived in a third-storey flat with Soho on one side of me and Covent Garden on the other. The spire of St. Giles-in-the-Fields was my northern neighbour and Shaftesbury Street ran with noise below the sitting room windows to the south. I walked each day in London’s maze of streets, in neighbourhoods filled with tourists, hotels and a subculture of street people and drug pushers. There were resident bohemians, too: artists, actors, musicians, and the bookshops, cafes, theatres and galleries that cradle them. Graffiti was everywhere; homeless people and beggars were everywhere. I learned the correct out-of-doors posture: head down, rapid walking pace, arms tight to the body. Only tourists looked up and around and spoke to strangers. As November came to an end, the weight of the population, its breath and stink and anonymity, pressed down on me. I was lonely, too. Then an image of an ancient coast surfaced like something remembered when you first wake up in the morning. I booked a Friday morning exit from Paddington Station on a Great Western train to Cornwall.

Train change at Plymouth. The rain streaked down the windows of the cars and strangers closed in upon each other. Announcements, scratchy, reedy, overlaid the sound of steel wheels on steel rails. Accents made the names unintelligible.

Train change at Par. With the rain and the approach of winter, daylight was gone by four o’clock. The windows shot my face back to me.

Newquay. Rain was driven in slanted sheets by wind full-blown from the invisible sea. Five minutes worth of taxi. Then I launched myself from the car toward a door with a wrought iron ring handle set into an arch on the lee-side of an old stone building. I closed the door of the Glendorgal Hotel and lost the sound of the Atlantic wailing. But excitement had already replaced the fatigue of the seven-hour journey. Somewhere close, water heaved against rock and I went back out into the night to walk while London fell away.

That evening, the Glendorgal’s bar was polished wood wreathed in smiles. I learned from those gathered around it that the nineteenth-century part of the building had been the childhood home of a writer, Derek Tangye. His “Minack Chronicles” are tales of life in Cornwall. What was it like to live here, on this shoulder against the sea? I wondered.

In spite of the rain, I walked throughout the weekend. My flat lease in London would be ending after Christmas and I decided, somewhere between Lusty Glaze and Porth beaches, not to spend Christmas alone. I would return to the Glendorgal and use it as a base to look for new accommodation. London had nearly emptied my bank account. I needed a cheaper place to live and write and Cornwall presented a solution.

By the end of December, new friends had come along. Angela, from Yorkshire, was the receptionist at the Glendorgal. Her husband, Rob, was a carpenter from Birmingham. Graeme, the hotel’s barman, was from South Africa. In fact, most of the people I met were transplanted from somewhere else. It seemed like a great tide had washed over the world, carrying with it dreamers, romantics, drifters and the dispossessed. It deposited them west of River Tamar and east of the Atlantic, a space where land and sea drew them in and held them to mingle with the descendents of Celts and Britons scuttled westward by encroaching Anglo-Saxon immigrants centuries ago.

Christmas Day at the hotel was quiet. The hours melted to six o’clock and a choice of turkey or roast beef. The owner of the hotel, Irish Seamus, his wife, their families, Angela and Rob and I, made a party of it. News came from the kitchen: Seamus and the chef had quarrelled and the Yorkshire puddings had been flung like confetti at a wedding. War games began. By midnight, the men swam in an alcohol haze and Seamus and Graeme fell out. Boxing Day was cold, gray and apparently unforgiving. The men could not put the previous evening into perspective. They sulked or strutted, according to their nature, and Graeme lost his job for pride. He was compelled to vacate the hotel’s staff accommodation.

Sue, another hotel employee, rescued Graeme with the offer of a two-bedroom cottage in a small market town seven miles away. I arranged to rent one of the rooms from him and was satisfied that I could count on shelter for a while. With several shuttles in an old MGB, worldly possessions were transferred to the cottage on Fore Street in St. Columb Major and a new year began.

It was late in January, on a cold, clear day, when we drove to Bedruthan Steps. I’d shared the story of my old cliff picture with Graeme and he agreed to take me there in his car. Though I’d studied the maps, I lost all sense of direction once we entered the narrow, curving lanes of the countryside between St. Columb and the coast. Was it really a distance of five miles to the Steps? It seemed like more with the twists and turns and tunnel vision pressed upon us by stone hedgerows higher than the roof of the car.

We parked at Carnewas, a National Trust enclave on the coast, and hiked the gravel-covered paths that led north toward the Steps while seabirds keened and slip-streamed above us. Ahead, the land hung and was anchored between wind-scoured sky and drenched-blue horizon. We came to a drop-off point and perspective multiplied to include depth as well as height, to embrace boundless width and immeasurable proportions. Before and below us, that ancient coastal picture I’d harboured for so long sprang out, alive.

The tide was at its ebb, exposing tumbled, riven rocks black against golden sand. These monoliths stood like a fleet of wrecked ships with their keels pointing to heaven. Once, they had been part of the cliffs themselves but over a thousand years or more the sea had hammered the land and undermined the granite and limestone. The sea tunnelled into crevices and lapped or raged until shards fell at the shore. We stood on the cliff-top, perhaps a hundred and twenty feet above sea-level, and absorbed the sight of Bedruthan Steps stretching away from us: north toward another jutting finger of land, and west, out to sea. The rocks, taller than houses, reached up, stark, to the cloudless sky. In such a place a man’s height goes for nothing and I remembered the Cornish legends of giants who, it is said, used the pillars as stepping stones at high tide.

We went on to find that a set of rocky stairs with iron-pipe handrails descending to the beach were gated and pad-locked shut for the winter months. A sign warned of danger in the falling rocks, in the turn of the tide, in sudden changes of weather, in the ocean’s undercurrents. We were no more than seeds on the wind in this place.

Several months went by and I returned to Canada. Another new year arrived and then it was April before I was able to get back to Cornwall to visit the Steps again. This time the gate was unlocked and I used the man-cut rock steps, a hundred or more down, to trace the flesh of the cliff’s reality. Walking the long stretches of beach at last, I saw my reflection in the warm shallows of tide pools. At the base of the cliffs the black hearts of wet cave openings swallowed me. I followed my shadow’s lead and measured my height against the staggered monoliths while the Atlantic pulsed and murmured, gathering its energy.

Today, I charge a brush with paint and drag it across a rectangle of canvas. The colours of dreams and danger flow, self-measurements against the idea of land and sea and sky, in cobalt and ultramarine, in burnt sienna and ochre. Beach stretches, rocks rise like little mountains, cliffs like green-topped anchors. The reaching sea pulls and pushes memory and desire. The paint is not enough. I promise myself that the next visit to the Steps will be soon, that I’ll find a cottage to rent nearby. I want to learn the seasons and weather of the Steps by the scent of the wind alone.

York

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

My Valentines--

It was another God damn Valentines night alone. It seemed like every single person I knew was with someone, making them of course, not single. So you know, I thought it would be a great idea to go to this Howard Dean convention. I am not a supporter really but I thought who else could be as heart broken and desperate than Dean supporters right now?

So I went down there, 203rd Davis Street at the old Otto Bar. Not far from the Inner Harbor where all the stupid tourist go. That is where I should have went, maybe I could catch some couple in a fight, console some girl. Take her back to my place and fuck the shit out of her, or even better yet in the Hyatt or whatever hotel she could be staying at. That would have been a sweet night.

But no, I go to the old Otto Bar. I walk in and not much has changed except all the decorations which I guess means the walls are still in the same place but everything is new inside but it doesn’t really feel new. They have this old monkey stuffed and behind the bar, actually they have several monkeys stuffed and behind the bar. The place looks run down and too far north, I look out the window to make sure I’m still in Baltimore and not Biloxi. I guess I got there kind of early, it seems like I always get to places kind of early. I ordered some Makers Mark. A double, no rocks. After some time the place starts to fill up and I have one of those meaningless conversations with the bar tender. Rick, Rick the bar tender. Anyway soon enough some dude gets up on the small stage.

“Hey. Um. Well, Happy Valentines everyone. And uh, thanks for coming out.”

The mostly college kid crowd gives a good response. Something typical, something ordinary and I don’t look up while he continues to talk. I light another cigarette and stare at one of the monkeys. I wonder if he ever had a name.

The Dean organizer guy at the mic goes on and on about continuing the fight and I start looking around to see what kind of strange I can maybe end up with tonight. I remember what happens next like it was clearly the worst thing to ever happen to me. I mean ever.

His name was Anthony; I remember that clearly because I always wanted my name to be Anthony. He was a good looking guy, a little taller than me which is to say maybe six foot one and he looked like he played la cross or soccer or something. Thin but in shape. Anyway him and his two buddies, I don’t remember their names and I don’t really care to either, they start talking to me. They each bum a cig. I light them up and Anthony smiles. With a God damn cigarette in his mouth he asks me if I smoke. I inhale on my cig.

“I don’t have any.”

“Well, we do. You want some?”

Sure, what the fuck, I had nothing else going on. Why not I thought to myself. Why the fuck not. So we go outside around the corner to an alley. I take some monster hits off Anthony’s pipe he calls Morrison. Now, I’ve smoked before but I am not a professional and I wasn’t paying much attention to shit. I was just taking big hits and getting fucked up.

Fucked up is right. The world slowed the fuck down and it seemed like my head was getting reset every thirty seconds. Maybe less. I don’t know. It seemed to take years to walk back into the bar and people were talking but I couldn’t care less about what they were saying because I had no idea what the fuck they were talking about. It was some strange world of being too high yet still aware of shit. I knew where I was, I knew what I was doing there but I didn’t know how long I had been standing in one place. Anthony said something to me about going to the bathroom. His friend nodded his head as if I should follow so I did. Why? Because I couldn’t think of anything else to do and I was fucked up.

So we go upstairs and all four of us fill in to the bathroom. I’m thinking were going to take some more hits but I’m way too gone for any of that. Anthony unzips his pants and looks at me.

“Suck my cock.”

I laugh and say no thanks. But no one else thinks its funny and suddenly I’m trying to come down out of the clouds.

“Do it for the Dean campaign.”

“Fuck Dean.” Is all I can remember saying right then. One of them, the one that looks like he is Greek or Jewish or something I don’t know. Fucking Hamas or some shit punches me dead in the face. I am kicked and all sorts of shit and being so fucking high I think the pauses between blows are minutes so this beating felt like days. I don’t know, shit, or I just don’t want to get into it but a cock went into my ass. Thrust after thrust and I started laughing. Another punch to my face stopped that. They fucked me, each of them and I just moaned. They were grabbing my hips and pulling me back and I could feel their balls smacking up against me. One of them cum’d on my back another on the back of my head and I think one of them cum’d in my ass.

They left me there on the floor with my pants down around my ankles and my lip bleeding my eye fucking swollen. With cum on my back, my ass, and my God damn head for Christ sake. And I puked. All over the floor, my hands, my shirt. I stumbled around and got dressed. Splashed water on myself and lit a fucking cigarette.

I made my way downstairs, paid my tab and left. I took a cab home, he asked me what happened and I just said “Valentines happened.”

I walked up to my apartment and fell down on the steps. I fucking cried until I passed out and my neighbor woke me up on Sunday morning. She asked if I was alright and I said yeah. Just fine.

“Just had a tough Valentines, that’s all.”

Embarrassed I fumbled for my keys and dropped them. She picked them up and opened my door. I didn’t even look at her. I said thanks, and she held my hand.

“Hey, you alright?”

“Yeah, I just uh, had a rough night.”

“Well, if you want to talk you can just come over.”

I smiled and looked at her. Where was she yesterday? I closed the door behind me. Took off my clothes and cried. Happy Valentines. Happy fucking Valentines.

Friday, February 13, 2004

RELATIVITY

Renee was having, at the age of one hundred and two, a lucid hour. The children had come and caught her in the middle of it.

Sigmund, she noted, had lost all of his hair and most of his sense. His seventieth birthday had been celebrated the previous July, so they told her. Dora at eighty had petrified into a unrepentent shrew of a woman, characteristics that had seemed, when she was twenty, to predict independence and strength. And Antoine, her middle child, moved gamely from one piece of furniture to another with his walking stick. Before his first birthday, the tottering from chair to sofa to chair had been an applauded stage of behaviour; now it just looked backward and repetitive and silly. What has happened to them all? She chewed on the question, her mouth working in tandem with her fingers that twisted and picked at the lacings of yarn in the crocheted afghan on her lap.

Vernon came to her then. He wasn’t related to her, she didn’t think. His skin was the wrong colour.

‘Miss Renee,’ he said. He was always polite, she remembered. ‘Miss Renee, here’s a nice cup of tea for you. And today, a nice bran muffin with dates in it. Now doesn’t that sound good?’

And he pulled the wheeled tray over to her chair and moved it in to cover her lap. He peeled away the ridged paper cup that clung to the bottom of the muffin. With a table knife, he split the shape in half and fiddled with the sealed butter tubs. Again he cut the muffin. Now there were four manageable pieces. Her stiff-fingered right hand shook a little as she reached to lift it while her children looked on from their perches around her in the room, waiting to see what remained on the tray when Maman was finished.
As she gnawed at the muffin quarters, she thought of some harmless questions for her brood.

What did you have for supper last night?

Do you remember the time we were in Maine on holidays, at Old Orchard Beach?

What have you done with Groucho, Sigmund? Didn’t you say last time that he was sixteen and could hardly walk any more? Not surprising. You fed him too much. Fattest bulldog I ever saw.

And Aimee, what is she doing now that Derek’s left her? (Aimee was a granddaughter, she remembered.)

But the questions mingled with the crumbs on her tongue and floated backward into the tunnel of her throat. She raised the tea mug to her lips and drank it down.

Sigmund leaned forward. ‘Maman, how was that? A good muffin? Good tea? Good. Good.’ And she wondered at his lack of originality. It hadn’t always been this way, had it? Hadn’t he, at thirty, been on the brink of something wonderful? Had the moments of early promise perhaps drifted away with his hair?

For Dora, she had few thoughts. Waste of time to even try talking with that one. Renee compressed her lips. Dora, Dora. Some folks believed that they were the world’s living authority on everything: Dora to a T.

Now it was Antoine who leaned forward. Don’t lean too far Antoine or you’ll be out of that chair and onto the floor in no time. Take up your stick, take up your stick.

He said: “Maman, is there anything I could bring for you next time? Maybe some nice little cookies for your tea? Or a plant. Would you like a pot of tulips? The stores are full of them now that Easter’s coming.”

Renee tilted her head to one side and gazed in his direction. The three silent children leaned forward in unison, expectant. Would she speak now?

“I would like to see tulips again, Antoine. Yes. But not red ones. The red ones look like hearts wobbling on the ends of green catheters.”

The children nodded and smiled as though they understood. Renee had a feeling that there would be three pots of tulips for her in a few weeks time. But no red tulips was all she could say today. Everything else had been swallowed with the muffin. She smiled a little and nodded and picked away at the afghan on her lap below the tray. They saw her eyelids flash open-close: it was the signal to say goodbye. She watched them make their various ways up and out of the naugahyde armchairs, shuffle to the doorway and turn to wave. It’s one thing to watch your children grow up; another thing to watch them grow old.

Renee sighed and surrendered her head to the high back of the chair. Good thing: that high back. Otherwise the neck would break with the weight of skull and brain and memories. Then she focused on the ceiling which spread before her staring eyes like a canvas for a life’s work, clear, except for thousands of tiny, absorbent holes. She drifted into a ceiling journey: the practice had first exploded into her mind in March, 1962. She had been sixty then and cantankerous as an old goat tied to a stake in the middle of a barren field. That winter had lasted too long to suit anyone but a penguin and as she shovelled snow from the path to the house, she had looked at the cloud ceiling above her and realized the truth: she was in hell. Hell it was: the whole world was a rubbish heap of madness. That explained the recurrence of wars, of greed, of cruelty on the planet. Four decades had flown by while she travelled the pages of Joyce’s Ulysses and Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past among others. Reading became a search for comfort, for evidence that she was right, for enlightened companionship. People couldn’t improve. They had been consigned to behave like morons here for their life-times. And then. And then? Then they died and who knows where they went afterwards. The point was: to the senses the world was a Garden of Eden, seductive and beautiful, sometimes luxurious; a place of opportunities for wealth or poverty, for good or evil, selfishness or altruism. And it was so complicated a place that people were content to take it as they found it, to label it reality and suppress questions like ‘What’s the point of all this?’ because there was too much of it to analyze. But Renee saw, as if it was standing in the flesh before her, the naked logic behind the lovely, convoluted facade: make ‘em think they’ve got paradise and turn their every effort into a syrup-drenched exercise in futility. Futility. Yes, that was the word. Worst of all, there were some who believed that the world and their life in it was all there was. Closed book, once they dropped dead. Who held out no expectation that there would ever be anything else, or anything any better. At least the ones who died with a vague idea of heaven on their minds went out hopefully.

Vernon came back.

He shifted her into a wheel chair and drove her back to the cubicle they called her room. The weak March daylight faded to evening as she struggled up onto the bed. She would not surrender herself to the sheets yet. The sheets were coarse against her thin skin and for an hour, if not longer, she would feel the soft pile of the blanket that covered the surface of the bed. Through the drawn window curtains, as though through fog, the headlights of passing cars flickered on and off, and from the corridor came sounds of dinner trolleys being wheeled along. Dishes, utensils, clattered; ascending and descending notes of the staffs’ voices rattled as they cajoled or praised her neighbours. She lay on her back with her head turned to the curtains. Her heart laughed a subterranean chuckle. Sigmund, Dora, Antoine. Billions of others. Farce and tragedy; mountains out of molehills; taking it all so seriously. A world of clowns, juggling rocks like Sisyphus, hoping to make the grade. Out of the dark a gentle snore erupted. She recognized it as her own and turned from her back to her side, curled up into the foetal position and fell away with a picture of red tulips in her mind.