Table of Contents:
Section I: Historical Retellings
“Medusa: An Autobiography” Fickle Muses, September 2013
“Eve in the Wasteland”
“Lay Down on the Threshing Floor,” EFiction, 2013
“Joan D’Arc: An Autobiography”
“I am RAHAB”
“The Tracks of my Orbit” Northern Liberties Review, April 2013
Section II: Relationships
“Sinking,” Short Fiction by Women, 1992*
“The Secret,” Pacific Review, May 2011
“Promise” American Writing, 1993
Section III: fini
“For the Man who Slammed the Door in my Face”
*”Burned,” a film about “Sinking,” won Best Narrative at the Ohio Film Festival.
True Fiction: A Pseudoautobiographical Chapbook in Three Parts by Carroll Ann Susco. Smashwords version.
Copyright Carroll Ann Susco 2014
Section I: Historical Retellings
Medusa: An Autobiography
Called me Gorgon. Called me bitch. I did not come for violence, for war, to go to war. I came to tell God’s truth, the truth of souls. I can do that. It makes people uncomfortable, the way I look at them and linger there, speak their truths. People want lies, get well soon greeting cards. The rulers, it was clear, had hardened their hearts long ago. But the people. I was not prepared for the reception I got. They wanted me to stop, stifle my words, turn the other way. Their conscience pricked, but no one could stop me. No one but my creators–The Father, God, and the Mother, the Holy Spirit (in green). I said to my would-be thwarters, You are wrong to rule a woman, and you are wrong to attempt to rule this one. And then I spit. They left the island and spit back. They would send men. That I could see.
I said, Repent, with authority. I said Repent, and it resonated. I said Repent, and men fell dead.
The soldiers who I had seen coming arrived. I know what you’re thinking. The answer is faith. In no time, our women were subdued, underground, weak slaves, or dead. Some lost their honor and their word and acquiesced. But I would not, and for that: Bitch. I was bitter in their mouths.
I spoke stronger truths. Reprobates’ hearts turned to stone. As my God foresaw. Still, I would not be hard hearted. My Achilles heel, my enemies hoped. Their damnation, I knew. I told those who came, Lies will cost you your souls. I told them, stop hating God. God is not the enemy. If you want to blame someone, I said, blame Satan. But they would not. Lucifer, Son of the morning was a kind angel who gave them power and authority and who had gotten the shaft from God because he wanted to be independent. God made them suffer, they thought, they said, they felt. Abandoned. I told them, No, he was an angel who needed to know everything. He was an angel who wanted to be the boss. But before I could finish, they had turned away. In the end, Satan was more marketable than I.
As each man came angrier than the last, the truths were painful rips and tears in the men’s fabric. I hated it. They couldn’t look into my eyes. To do so is to face the Word, whispered or screamed. The Word is the law, the testimony. Ironic, a laugh, they did not want to know what was honest and yet they had come to a seer of souls. What did they expect? But still more fighters were dispatched. Strong women died. Warriors spun their swords at me, but did not reach my heart. They could not kill me. It was beautiful to see God’s power and the clarity. Only a righteous man could kill me, only Perseus. As it was foretold, so it would be.
Snakes in my hair, not evil things that cause the world to fall, but whisperers of futures that would be required of those who chose to lie to themselves in the face of me. Snakes in my hair spoke of my healing power, the power of the truth, how it can lead people to heal their relationships with their creators. After me, the snake was demonized by the patriarchy, and now people think it is Satan! No, just a woman. Not evil Gorgon Bitch out to destroy manhood. Ha! Those arrogant bastards could turn things around. I give them that. Me destroying them! I could spit!
Play the game. Everyone said, Play. What they would have gotten from me: an eye for an eye. Play that game! But I died instead and the future changed. I died, as God foresaw, and here I sit in heaven, waiting for the end of the world.
You earth, you hell, you cruel culture. Perseus. I am glad you killed me. You found the key to my death, my release, and did not look at my outward appearance when you sliced through skin, bone, sinew. Instead, you looked in your shield and saw me reflected, my pain, my truth. You reflected on me. And that’s what it took to end my pain and take my burden. Thank you. I would marry you for less.
As for Poseidon? He raped me. People are used to the rapes. It is not news. But it does destroy a woman. It does bring us to our knees. Out from my neck sprang gold and divine Pegasus. Not all bad, rape. I spit. I am pro choice now.
Memory haunts me. I screamed, alone with treacherous fools. They surrounded me and I swung around and around and around with words, only words. Don’t tell, but I still work, somewhere safe. Truths are rolling on the waves, circling with the moon, touching souls and turning them to stone or freeing them from this yoke. Thousands of years I have lived alone with my father, God. I am safe and warm and alive where being me is a good thing. I wait for the end of suffering. I wait for the end of lies. I wait for the end of evil. One day, I tell you, I wait no more. Trust me.
Eve in the Wasteland
Back to the beginning. I plead my case, a reincarnated idiot living in the 21st century. Innocence is dangerous when a snake can tell me to eat a piece of fruit, and I do it. Hungry or not. Why would I want to know evil? Why would I want to be God? Why would I want to be a man? Why would I want to be someone’s fool? I thought I was missing something. I was wrong. Now I see I should have squashed the snake and stopped mid-bite. I think my veins will split open from the pressure. I destroyed the planet with one sin. Damn. And that’s what He’ll do. All my children!
My center can no longer hold. I am a volcano spewing my parts, the hard parts of me and the soft. I am liquid now without my frame. I lost my lid, my rocks flew, smoke and ash, and then my center blew up and started to roll down the mountain, burning liquid rolling over pasture and making it barren. Making it smolder. Making it molten. Now, I am barren, and I make Pompeii out of people—frozen terrified people at me coming at them and over them and through them. My center rolls over them and freezes them mid-scream. Dead from me. And I don’t even know what compelled me to eat.
Conviction makes me sit quiet a long time in the Wasteland, my kitchen. “Things fall apart” (Yeats, “The Second Coming”). And they are. They will. They do. They have. Me, a thing, too.
Faith is better. Faith is worse. Faith means God will put a stop to it. There is only one way how. My children weep. I weep. But He knows what I need: the suffering to end. But to do it, He will kill even the geese. I don’t know why I fixate on geese. And then, while sitting at the kitchen table, a tornado picks me up, and there in the eye I consider my guilt. I ate the fruit. I should have killed the snake. My hair whips. “Turning and turning in the widening gyre” (Yeats, “The Second Coming”). My view stretches across a broken place where glasses don’t hold water and centers slip down like panty hose. I live alone. I tell no one who I am. I work. I sleep. I do it again, without my Adam. One day, beyond this….
I apologize to the postman. I am too numb from being blown apart to cry. I am just a woman, not even strong enough to lean on while the world falls apart. So I make dinner. The tornado at least dropped me somewhere close to home.
I can’t forgive myself. No. Maybe. Over time. Eventually. But I didn’t tell me to eat the fruit. You want blame, Satan? You want guilt? Who got Hemingway to say, “Our nada who art in nada…deliver us from nada” (Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place)? You’ve got them believing there isn’t even a God. Their lives seem pointless now. And Hemingway is dust. No saving him. What is wrong with you, Satan? Jerk.
No, I will not mind my manners, sit down, shut up. Evil men have taken the ball and run with it. They make things fall apart and my center cannot hold them. I swallow hard. They took the ball. They picked the tree. They told me to eat. Listen. Listen. Listen. This is no matriarchy.
And you say, Sweet dreams, you say, “Ta ta. Goodnight. Goodnight. Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night” (T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland”). And that’s it? You tuck me in? And I’m dismissed? Fine. Goodnight.
I would like to apologize to the clerk at the grocery store.
Lay Down on the Threshing Floor
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.”
–Ruth to her mother-in-law, Naomi,
in the Book of Ruth, Old Testament, Holy Bible (KJV).
First I have to tell you of my love, before I tell you of my shame, and some things, I cannot tell. I am Ruth, and I love my mother in law, Naomi. I was a heathen before I met and married her son. But she taught me of her God, of her morality, of her love, of family. I was a sponge. I soaked her up.
My husband died. My sister-in-law’s husband died, and Naomi’s husband died. It was a terrible time, a time of trial. But, the famine was over in Naomi’s homeland. She decided to return there, to the land of the Jews. My sister-in-law and I were free to remain and find husbands. Naomi said her womb had dried up. She could offer us nothing.
On the dusty road, Naomi ready to start out, we stood. My sister-in-law kissed Naomi’s cheek and left, but I could not. I could not bring my lips to her face. I loved her. I worshipped her God, accepted the teaching that He would provide. And so we stood on the road. She entreated me to leave her, but I stood firm. There was no going back for me. She was home.
She turned her back on me and started to walk, but she looked over her shoulder soon enough and saw me following her. She laughed, waited for me to catch up, held my hand as we walked toward our new future. If only … if only doesn’t matter. One must deal with what is. We reached her land.
Naomi’s farm had been sold when the family left. Without it, she said, she didn’t know what we would do. Naomi and I, staying in a relative’s room, lay in bed and discussed options. I said in the morning I would find a way to work for food. She protested, but I said no. She said it was beneath me, but I said I did not care. This is something her God, my God, teaches, humility.
And so it started innocently enough, while we lay in bed talking in the dark. She recommended I go to Boaz’ land if I were to insist on going somewhere. He was a man of God, a good man.
And so, in the morning, I woke with the rooster and went out to Boaz’ land. There I joined the others, and we began to reap. And this is what I reaped: beautiful, golden grain. Surely this was the land of milk and honey. And I believed God was shining on me, that I would reap what I sowed.
At the end of the day, Boaz came. Our eyes met, kismet. He saw me, dirty, sweaty, tired, and I saw him. My eyes did not want to let go, and I could tell, neither did his. What did he see? I was conscious of my hair, my lips, my skin, his stare. I was embarrassed. I fell on my face, bowing down on the ground.
Boaz, astride his horse, said to me, I know of your choosing to serve God and not another and loving Naomi and not yourself. So I begged, May I find favor in your sight. He said not to touch the other men and for them not to touch me. The rape threat was mitigated, and I swallowed the words, don’t touch the other men, as if I was a whore. I looked down. In fact, since accepting the God of the Jews, I wanted to hold that frail graceful woman who would wear white robes and be gentle. I wanted to be her all the time. I did not want to be a hot, sweating dog, having carnal sex. So I swallowed. Somber, I went home.
When I told Naomi about Boaz, she pulled back in her seat, turned her head, and looked off. Give me time, she said, and she went to her bed and lay down. You are my daughter she said at one point. I know more than you know she said at another. It got dark. I heard her sigh. It was getting near time to sleep and she had not eaten. Finally, she rose. She spoke in hushed tones. I listened and held her words close. Lay down, she said, on the threshing floor, where the grain is separated from the chaff. Anoint your hair with oil. Clean and scrub. Lay on the stone circle, where Boaz will be, she said, the circle once a sign to me of wholeness, now a sign I am not.
I washed. I went. He was on the stone circle, half asleep. I approached, knelt at his feet, curled in a ball. I hoped I would not have to uncurl. But he sighed and I knew what would happen. He beckoned me to lay beside him, this man of God. And so, I stood, bent my will, bent at the knees, and let myself fall forward.
Parts of me died, and parts of me were discarded when he entered me. Am I wheat or am I chaff? May I find favor in his sight so he will call me wife. I was a good wife once. I will make one again. See the way I lay, see my hips, my throat that can be slit if I cheat?
I do not cry. I do not smile. I tell no one my truth. I am lucky to have anything. God will not give me more than I can bear, but I feel when my husband died, I should have, too. Naomi had known what she was doing. But, she, like me, was chattel. I could not hate her.
My chest heaving, I waited for Boaz to speak. Finally, he said to his servants, tell no one of this. I thanked him. Oh God, you have taught me humility. I humble myself before you. I bow down. Find favor with me, please. I turn the phrase terrible.
It is past and present tense for me: On the threshing floor I am shaken. What I am worth falls, and what I am not worth floats away, carried by wind somewhere. I don’t know. The chaff of me gone, I am only parts useful. Where did the rest of me float? To the tops of trees where the birds are. They are gone now, not to return. They’ve flown south. But I have been tested and my meat exposed. This was a time of trial. I turn the word terrible.
Boaz showed mercy, gave himself to me as husband and gave me Naomi’s land. I am thankful I tell myself, but what I feel is cold. Now, Naomi will have food on the table, her land, and she will be safe. I have been loyal to her God. I have been loyal to her, as I promised, and all is well. And it is true, her God is my God. Her people are my people. Where she goes, I will go. Where she dies, I will also. I did not betray her. I am learning. We prosper. I thank my new God. Thank you chokes in my mouth. Next time I will be smarter, and on Boaz’ deathbed, I will fly out the window.
Joan D’Arc: An Autobiography
Waiting for something to happen. Pull the covers up. Try to sleep. Close your eyes. Open them. Something is going to happen. Watching my breath. A draft. Something is coming. Something powerful. Something old.
God’s voice shakes the cabinet. “Go,” He says. I squeeze my eyes closed, as if to say, Don’t hit me. I’m going to be ill. “French Blood is spilling,” He says, “Lead the French to victory or it will be a massacre!” I am on a ship rocking and sea sick. I see the massacre. I see the French blood spilling. I say, French blood is spilling. French blood is spilling. I will say it many more times, my new mantra. I feel my own blood leaking out of me. The pain will not stop. Disoriented, my feet hit the floor. I tear at my arms. Stop! The candle falls over. The bloodshed. No longer can I see my breath. I want to say I am not up to this, but I cannot. I know then that He has chosen me and I don’t know why but I will—what? March on the enemy? I fall back into bed. I bite my lip. I must go. All of me says it, excruciatingly. And then I know what needs to be done.
Mother, I scream. Father. Joan, they say, rubbing my red skin. I tell them. Joan! Our Joan has been chosen by God! They give me a hug, and I faint. In the morning, everyone has already heard and the best men are gathered at the kitchen table. Okay then, I say, scratching up and down my forearm where the blood wants to leak. God has made them believe, but the king? He is not a Godly man.
Together, we ride to the castle. Take our horses. We are here to see the king. He’s tricky, that king. Hides from me, but I find him. Now do you believe? Excruciating. French blood is spilling.
God spoke. People believe. They will listen. They will charge.
I am the king’s last hope. He gives us what we need and we are on our way.
When we arrive, the soldiers are kind but half dead. All I can hear is my mantra and I say it, desperate for them to stop. Stop! Stop, I plead. Sleep leads to unruly dreams. I am sweating and cold and the blood is spilling. Every report is the same. We are going to lose.
The only thing left: I don shield and sword, cut my hair. I grab the flag and a sword. Charge! My blood spills.
Victory. My blood stops.
God is good.
We come home to cheers. I could sleep forever if these smiling faces did not make me want to be in this moment forever. Something is wrong. They stop my horse. They ask me to follow them, lead me to the Bishop. He asks if God talks to me and I say yes, but when I ask God to speak, only silence.
They put me in a room, at the top of the tower with tiny windows to see the people at their daily business, free from bloodshed.
And I get very confused. I hear many voices, good and evil. I hear many people tell me to recant, but why? And it starts to bother me that I only cared for the French blood. Something in me is spreading out to all bloods. Blood is spilling and I feel the burn in my veins. I am a troubled woman. I would go to the nunnery to pray for God to end suffering, but I cannot leave the tower.
I cannot. GOD spoke!
No. It’s not that way. I was embraced.
Thoughts spin. Questions. I don’t understand. I can’t recant. They question me. They implore me. They threaten me. And I do not bend.
God does not talk to the good. Recant.
Yes, yes he does the candle fell over my breath my blood.
In the tower, filthy now, a small crack of light. Voices everywhere. God? I hold on. So alone. Gruel to eat. Torn frock. Please don’t rape me.
I have no choice, the king says, you must realize.
I see, I say, I see.
I bite my lip.
And so, I hear the lick and crackle of my skin as it roasts.
God? May I find favor in your sight. They don’t understand. It was not me who chose to ride to the king, to ride to the soldiers, to ride to the Bishop, to ride to the tower, to walk down the steps. To tie my hands to the post, to lick my feet with flame, to feel the heat rising up, to feel the searing of my marrow until my soul rises out of me, a lick, smoke, rose toward you. I can hear you better now. Blood is spilling.
I am RAHAB
It is hard to be labeled a whore for thousands of years in the BIBLE. It’s hard to be called a woman who turned against her people and sacrificed them all so she could live. I lie awake at night, before I died, thousands of years ago, thinking about misrepresentation. To my sadness, the story is still the same.
I did have hope, when Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 39, no. 5, called the translation into question. But it is futile fighting gossip by the Bible Gateway people who are still at it. I feel a bloody dagger in my ribs. Pull it out at least. Pull it out, please. Yes, out, no?
Thousands of years ago, I was so young then. And surprise! Lying in bed the night before the two spies came, I learned there was a god. One moment nothing and then the next I felt God all around me. The lamp was nothing compared to the light I saw when I closed my eyes. I don’t know how long I lay there with my brain on fire. But I had such love for this Being. Just soft kind tears fell.
I woke in the morning with knowledge. So I went where I had been told to go and there they were, two men dressed as villagers standing below my window. I lowered the rope I was told where to find. The men climbed up. After the soldiers made their rounds, I lowered the two down the other side. They came back and sat with me in my small room. They did not think I was a whore. The one said, Innkeeper, when I return you and your family will be spared. I told him Thank you, but that is not the point. We must do this God’s will. This God’s will is good.
I lowered them down outside the wall and they disappeared immediately. I didn’t feel weight on the rope. That is how I knew they were gone. And one yelled back, heaven and a husband forever for you. I threw them a loaf of bread. That wasn’t the reason at all, a reward, that I helped these men of my new God. I don’t care how much it cost. Love is not measured or it is not love.
About a week later, without my people suspecting, the Israelites came. They killed the people while I sobbed, but the Israelites spared my relatives and myself. I went to bed. When I woke, one of the spies I had let in was hovering over me. He said, “You will be a good wife. Sin no more.” I beat my conscience with a stick looking for guilt but I didn’t know what I had done wrong. It was the God’s will to invade and kill my people.
As you can read of in the book Joshua, I am Rahab. To the Bible Gateway, Rahab means, ”The Woman God Took From the Dunghill.” That is what they call me. That’s my name now. To the Bible Gateway people, it means the representative of the insolence of the Egyptians. Here’s my insolence, Bible: I didn’t require manna or whore for false gods. So there. And I am not covered in dung.
On good days I laugh at the Bible Gateway for saying, “The gratitude Salmon [one of the spies I helped] felt for Rahab ripened into love, and when grace erased her former life of shame he made her his wife.” No grace will erase my shame. Here’s my insolence: I would be ashamed to be on the same planet as someone who would write that. Do you know me? What do you know that you would say that I should be ashamed?
Furthermore, Bible Gateway, when you learn to house your God, then maybe we can talk, but this innkeeper would have given them a bed. This innkeeper did. This innkeeper has an ancestor named Jesus that no one would give a bed to the first night he breathed on this earth. An angel had to light the way for three discreet kings.
And the rumors still fly. Some say I married Joshua, or one of the spies. But, there are so few strong women left after the Bible Gateway is through they would have me marrying everyone.
In the end it comes down to how one feels about oneself. We all live with our conscience. I sleep peacefully, and my demons are few. But to the world, I am the woman God saved from the dunghill. I am RAHAB.
The Tracks of my Orbit
I lick my lips to taste the salt and call it kismet. Look at that line between water and sky and hear it calling. Don’t be scared just because the world’s flat and if you set sail you’ll go over the edge like it’s a waterfall. Find that razor sharp edge and careen right off it. Ignore that voice that tells you Go back! Dragons and demons lie in wait. Go to them. Listen to the sirens in the fog. Don’t think about where fog comes from. Call it firmament. There is only water and sky and all that blue and the edge of something. Sail defiant with a strong headwind, a magnetized compass and old charts to guide you. Read signs written in tea leaves and on loaves of bread. Practice alchemy. Paint your face with the marks of a warrior. Sweat and smell it. This is hard work. Remember you’re an animal. Eat a pork chop and cut your teeth on the bones. Look out over the bow and see the edge of the earth calling. Sail toward it. Walk the plank and tease the monsters. Shark tidbits.
I’m in the hospital again. Went off my medication when the siren called.
Tie me up. Tie me down. Time for tapioca.
Squall! Batten the hatches merry men, this is going to be a big one. The waves are coming over the edge of the ship and sucking me into the shark’s waiting mouth. So much salt spray sugars our faces.
Time for medication. This is no drug-free America. I don’t want an anchor. I watch the surface tension for monsters and tell myself, if they could, they would lock up the priest for believing in God, Moses for parting the Red Sea. I try to stay away from the topic of religion because they say I’m delusional, but then Oops! I speak in tongues.
At night, sailing is like a black hole. Can’t see a damn thing. Weak of heart faint. Your mind plays tricks on you. The sound of water lapping. The edge all around you. Ghost ships. Pirates. Whales. Dragon breath for an evening breeze. Can’t see a thing because the moon is scared and hides behind thick fast moving clouds. Bedroom check. Hi, no I’m not sleeping. I’m having a waking nightmare, close the door. How many days have I been here? Three, four.
I entertain Dr. Jekyll with stories of my girlhood. If I could I would pull that girl into me and be her forever. I would eat chocolate pudding and watch TV and comfort her but the black is so foreboding, I can’t resist it. That wondrous edge,that line they tell you not to sail toward so inviting, hair pressed flat against my head from speed of going.
If you censor your thoughts, they can’t hear what you’re thinking. I run on hard feelings I already know, float on that sea away from the arm chair, away from the reruns, out the door, down the hall, out the other door, down the other hall, to the outside. It’s only been four days since they committed me, and I’m free again. I cross the parking lot, ride the knowing without thinking and the message is “It’s time” and the picture is of Moses standing before the pharaoh saying, “Let my people go.”
I float. Hoist the sails. Rig the rigging. Set a course for the end of the earth and this time no stopping. Tie the wheel. Man overboard. I’m going alone. Taste the salt, feel a blessed warm summer breeze. Listen to the lapping. I’m hungry and no one to knock at my door and say breakfast. At dawn, I leave the woods. My feet know the way and they start to travel. I think about the forward motion of feet, the shape of fine quality shoes rounded and padded, the outline of the toes and the smallness of the heel and the feel of the arch stretching, the toes pressing, my shadow, more me than me, beside me moving like my secret giant forward. The muscles you use for walking backward are different. The calf stretches. Forward it’s the shins and the sides of your leg–that muscle there on the side of your leg, the long thin one that hurts when pressed. Your body, my body, a rhythm of muscles in continuous movement, the push forward. You never see people walking to the side or backward, but it happens. What I am doing now is a progression. I find a bagel place. A feast of old bagels waits for me.
I have things on my mind. No amount of cleaning wipes them away.
I am being watched and I don’t like it. There’s danger out here; it lurks. Everywhere, there are lurkers lurking. I stand outside the grocery store but go no farther because I don’t know where I’m going. I stand here streetcornered like a lightpost or the machine that holds the Apartment Guide, a sitting duck.
I wait, Blessed Mother Mary and Joseph, for Jesus to find me. Hello, he’ll say, and there will be a warmth behind the smile that takes my eyes to the ocean. To the blue. Beware the rocks. Smell the air. He’ll glow like a holy man. I’ll feel it next to him, the warmth. Come, he’ll say, and let all those who have hunger eat. One fish will feed 1,000. Seven loaves of bread multiplied. He’ll say warmth with his eyes. He’ll say nothing when I stare at him. He’ll stare back.
I stand by the back door of a place I knew once, in the alley with the trash cans and watch through the screen door while the cook is throwing a burger on a grill. He’s cooking, all sorts of things. Boiling. Grilling. Frying. He didn’t wash his hands, only wiped them on a rag. He hands me a bag, a hand off, and I walk out into the alley and he says to come back again but I know I won’t.
I haven’t had my coming out party and I’m too old to have one now, never had one, unless you count the way I was carried by my feet and shoulders in a straight jacket out of the house the first time they committed me. There is no dating where I’m from. We’re given quiet rooms and little green pills that tell our brains to stop wanting, pills that talk to those swirling feelings like tornadoes. We’re driven by the wind up and down the halls.
Childhood: My father in his chair looks past me and yells “Theresa,” my mother, Theresa. My mother comes in and tells me to stop bothering my father. She’s holding a can of Lysol, her long thin finger still on the button. I sit, press myself into the back of the couch, try to be as quiet as he is. I play statue, a game best played at dusk. Every muscle freezes. He’s watching a fishing show. I sit still, can’t turn my head to look at the TV or move my eyes. I stare at the fireplace. My father is looking at me, I can feel it. He says, “What are you doing now?” Even when I’m still, he senses movement and this disturbs him. My mother goes upstairs to get ready to go to church. I hear her going up the steps. I sit, a piece of Samsonite luggage on the couch. Go upstairs and put a dress on. I hold my position for the count of ten. “Lucy,” my father says.
I am eating a cheeseburger. To me, the cook transforms, in a phone booth, by the light of the moon, into the c-o-o-k (with attitude). The cook, hard c, o’s like took, hard k with spit, slices onions with the spinning blade that looks like it’s not moving. He laughs and tells me to stick my hand in there. He tells me “Chop it off.” “They have a name for men like you,” I say, “cook.” It’s all very dicey. And I’m not talking about the veg-o-matic. It’s all very cut and dried: he dices, he slices, and me just a carrot, now whole, now even round pieces. That’s right, what’s to be feared is that ax wielding, knife twirling, knife throwing man, his holiness, the c-o-o-k (with attitude), who hacks at pig meat. He busts through the swinging doors spinning his cutlery, tossing it to the ceiling and it twirling back down to his outstretched palm. Eek! And I’m doing cartwheels to keep him guessing where my parts are, so he can’t take aim. I cartwheel over the stainless steel counter and into the dining room. I flip over a table and land by the window. Before you can say, “Run for the hills,” I’m up and over by the wall and the soda fountain. “Take that,” he says, and lands a knife in the plaster.
Hot days take my will to run away but not my will to squat down and look at the ground between my legs. To raise my ass up in the air and bend at the waist and dangle. I have to let my arms sway and scrape the ground, my palm pressing flat into the rough concrete. Some concrete is full of sand or smooth or sparkles with glass crystals. All of it’s hard. I watch men nail in a wood frame. The truck comes up, rotating to avoid hardening in transport, and pours the concrete out in lumps into the wood frame. The men brush the wet gray mix smooth. They brush it even more than it seems like they do. They do it with care. The brush is bristled and leaves streaks, the squeegee makes the surface even.
I bend at the waist and not the knees like when I was a girl (I am a girl still even though I’ve had pubic hair for fourteen years and have worked half way through my stash of eggs). I press my palms against this hard rock that keeps broken dirt from moving and plants from taking root and me from touching clay. Walking for miles without touching it. I can press the concrete that’s already set and smile at the men pouring new and my smile says “See, when you’re done it will look like this.” They smile back. I seem harmless enough.
Gray paste disturbs my vision, forms a film over it, smeared. Gray paste sits in the gutters in my head. It’s the kind you ate when you weren’t supposed to, the kind that gets hard and forms chunks in the container. It makes my joints stiff and it’s tightening. This is my madness. I am walking concrete. I rotate to avoid hardening before my time. This requires spinning–slowed down ballet twirls and fast-paced all-out spins. And I don’t care what the watchers think when I’m spinning or in a lilt or a round-about twirl. There is no one else but me in a white dress with crinoline that makes it poof out and I wear ballerina slippers that lace up my leg. The laces dig into my leg and I get calluses on the tops of my toes. The rest doesn’t matter. The rest is of no account. There is no rest.
The night is damp. Best to forget. The forgetting is a quiet aloneness that leaves blank spaces for thoughts of curling and hiding. It isn’t long till I am talking to myself again like there is no one else. There is no one else. I crawl in a dumpster.
I imagine the moon. I have pictures memorized of it flat and white and odd. This world looks different from outer space. All that cold blue. To be the moon would be lonely, small time to earth’s big time, no one giving much thought to it. I feel its pull and don’t know what to make of it, feel myself spinning, tilting my axis, surrendering to gravity.
Section II: Relationships
My mother and I, we position ourselves for maximum sun. So it hits us head on. Sit close to the water for cooling, for better roasting. Our chairs so low our butts get wet when the waves come in. Piles of sand sit like loads in our suits. We don our U.V.-protected glasses so our eyes are covered with mirrored lenses. Apply sun block. The book I gave her to read, My Mother, My Self, sits unread in her bag. The book on her lap is titled Nights of Passion. Her thumb is stuck to the page. I wonder if she’s gotten to a good part yet. I am unable to read so watch seagulls flying. Saves come in, go out. We have our feet firmly planted in the sand. The water rushes up, hissing, washes some of the sand away, and we sink a little bit more.
“Look what you’ve done to your feet,” I say. She bends over and looks down. “What?” They are gnarled tree roots. And just as hard. “Look at them. They look like they hurt.” She pulls one side of her mouth back. Sits back. Goes back to reading.
“Why do you wear your shoes so tight that they do that to your feet?” I say.
She says, “You want me to wear those dumpy shoes you do? No wonder you’re always home when I call on Saturday night.” I look at my feet. I have callouses on my little toes from my dress flats but my toes are still straight.
“Mangled feet aren’t sexy,” I say.
She doesn’t look up from her book. She half mumbles-says, “They’ll never get that far.”
I look at the choppy water, the wind rippling the surface. “Well maybe I don’t want a man who wants me to wear high heels all day, kill my feet on that concrete.”
“Oh would you get off it,” she says. She almost slams her book closed, but doesn’t. “I don’t tell you how to dress.” She looks at me with one eyebrow raised—I dare you. I look into her mirrored lenses looking for eyes but instead I see my floating head on each lens. My hair curling from the heat, my too-cool sunglasses, my bright red nose, my lips pursed. Her floating head in my sunglasses reflects, her raised eyebrow turned on herself.
I watch the water swell, feel the heat on my skin. The sun’s hot and burns right through the sun block. I have no base tan. She is such a liar. How many fights did we have that started
Her: You’re not going out like that.
Me: Watch me.
Her You step one foot out that door.
Me: And what? I can’t come back?
Her: Yes. (When she is mad it is clean and obvious. Her look is bold. But her face changed. Like she’d just stepped on a nail.)
Me: Fine. (Here my face changed. I look like her but with teeth clenched and jaw tight. I can step on two nails.)
I look up the beach, away.
“Did you drink all the lemonade?” she says. She sits with arm extended, glass empty, sour look. Yes, I drank it all. I was dehydrated, from the sun, from the beer I drank in the car coming, in the parking lot waiting, preparing to meet her.
“It’s too hot to sit here. Let’s go in the water,” I say. Sweat beads on her chest, her lip, wets the hair above her ear. She says O.K., marks her page. We remove our sunglasses. We stand where cold water rolls in and splashes us up to our knees. I squint to look at the bright water sparkling.
“You should really lose that pot if you’re going to wear a bikini,” she says. I look her over, looking for flaws.
“You’re getting saggy arms just like Grandma had,” I say. “Your whole back is flabby and freckled.” I turn her by pressing my hand to her shoulder. Press my fngers into her back and scratch her shoulder blades. The skin is sticky and greasy, a layer of it comes away under my nails. She smells of coconut and sweat.
Run before the waver crashes. I dive under it as it curls over me. The cold takes my breath and the sand burns my knees. She wades out slowly, letting the small waves crash into her waist. No big ones come. She plods toward me, her hair still dry.
We wade out to a sand bar and beyond to where the waves only swell. Water makes my thigh fat and white. We float on our backs, squat with only head and shoulders exposed, look back at the beach and our empty chairs.
A school of blue fish pass right in front of us, their silver-green bodies so close I could step forward, reach out, and touch. But I squat, still, feel the lightness of water around me. The blue fish pass with wide open expressionless eyes. Their lips pout. I watch the water turn dark where the school swims. My mother is following them with her eyes, too. She says they will attack people if they are hungry enough. I tell her not to spoil it. But then I start to worry about stepping on a crab, or touching a jellyfish. My hair hangs in dry salty lumps.
We wade back in. Sit in our chairs till water turns to salt crust, put our sunglasses back on so we don’t get frown lines, so the brightness doesn’t burn our retinas.
“I’m going inside,” I say, “before I’m toast.” I press my thigh with my finger. Pushing makes white, releasing red. I start to leave, walk on hot sand and broken shells.
“Just put on more lotion,” she says. I turn and we’re looking at each other. Already her skin is pink red. She will stay here until she blisters if I let her. “Coming?” I say.
“I guess,” she says. She was waiting to be invited. I say “Good. We’ve cooked enough for one day.”
And she says, getting up from her chair and folding it, “We have to have something to burn tomorrow.”
Wrapped in the folds of my grandfather’s coat was a secret, in the dark parts where no one looks. Somewhere where dust and cobwebs grow, a place for a man moving to put his skeletons. Because of what he hid there in the folds, his granddaughter would kill herself. Four of his five children would go insane. But there, on the deck of the ship that took him from Italy to Ellis Island, my grandfather imagined he had outrun his family’s history and nothing cataclysmic would befall him or his relations. So, surrounded by water without edges, he let a small smile raise his cheeks. He smelled the salt air. He felt the wind. He thought then that he might even be free soon. The foreign shore got closer, the place where freedom rang, but he did not feel freer on approach. He wrapped his collar about his throat and swallowed unwillingly. People disembarking started pressing him forward, but he froze, only relenting when the crowd moved him forcibly down the gangplank. The noise of the city consumed him and the quiet that had left him to his thoughts made him ache with its leaving.
Standing on the shore, he took his wife’s hand and walked into America. But he did not see possibility. Instead, he noticed the smell of rotting fish, ugly buildings made with no grace, concrete, restaurants, shops, trash cans, streets, people. It was too much for his hope, this man who loved the smell of the earth and growing things. It was too much for this man who needed quiet and stillness. He did not understand the secret could make him small and mean from too much, and it could take away his love, make him paranoid, irrational, dangerous. He did not know this, and as a man he could not think it. He pulled his coat tight. His wife reached for his arm, but he jerked away. He shoved his hands deep in his pockets, and she said nothing. She could not in those days. Instead she focused on the sidewalk in front of them and kept walking. That she could do.
Perhaps Eustaccio was a terrible man to think crossing water to a new place full of promise, somewhere far from his family’s past, would keep the secret from manifesting itself, in him, in his children. Perhaps he was not terrible at all.
A son. It would take 28 years for the secret to show itself, too late for questions, too late for answers.
Raffaella had more children, and one by one the secret revealed itself in them. She could not speak of her grief. She was silent when she heard one of her daughters dropped to her knees in the middle of a busy street to pray to a vision of the Virgin Mary. Raffaella died two days later of a heart attack. Eustaccio lived much longer, alone, while the truth unraveled.
Eustaccio and Raffaella did not start the conspiracy of silence; it had spread down the ages like vines around an old tree that choke it tighter and tighter until no choice was left the two but to root elsewhere. They fought to live, despite it. They fought hard. A terrible thing it is: that desire to be.
A clap, a sucking noise, and a whoosh. The door slammed and Emily’s soul swooped away. Wide eyed, she froze. Quiet. Slow motion turning of her head. Sticks, red leaf, the garage door, the blacktop. Biting her lip, a pause before resolve. Fist around keys, she tried forward motion. She was stuck, like the weather stripping. Immobility unacceptable, she shoved, but her legs failed to go forward. Her knees were locked, and her brain could not tell them what to do. Her soul had put up with a lot, but leaving her aging mother to fend for herself was it. Slow motion head turning to look at grey clouds and a hint of light behind them.
What happens when the soul leaves the body: first, the ribs clamp closed around the heart and stab into it. The heart skips two beats and considers stopping. The breath comes out in a cold cloud. Something falls off the shelf, a box too high reached for in desperation. The person disconnects from every atom and every atom is disconnect. There is no stopping the grief.
Emily dropped her keys. Her arms hung down. She hung down. Her hair hung down. And there would be no motion until it was a pivot and she was facing the other way. Motion made, she stared at her mother’s door and begged it to let her back in.
Her mother sat in her chair and looked out the window at the trunk of a brown tree. She was looking at the spot where the bird feeder was supposed to hang, the one with the spikes so the squirrels couldn’t eat the seed. How she had hated those squirrels. The dickens, she fought them and the birds had come. Now she stared at the nail where the feeder had hung and realized she didn’t give a fig about squirrels. She didn’t give a fig about birds, either, but she had once so she thought she should. She should buy birdseed and hang the feeder. Eh, she’d seen enough sparrows. Anyway, she would have to get up out of her chair. She would have to dress. She would have to drive. She would have to walk down aisles. And then the bag. She put her hands to her face and felt her soft cheeks. She was still her, but something had changed. She was about to not give a fig about that, either , when something beautiful just out of reach passed over her and out the window into the sky. A soul, her daughter’s. She didn’t know what it was, but she felt it, stretched toward it, dancing arms toward sky. She smiled, her eyes like clouds. Her fingers grasped at air, and she stared off at a grey sky that was just letting a few rays through.
Outside, Emily reached for the knob and turned it.
Oh! What a surprise. Her mother who was still sitting in her chair, ankles cold. The daughter noticed then how soft and fine and grey her mother’s hair had become, how she had lines on her face where expressions had been and how her eyelids drooped as though she were perpetually sad. She noticed the gnarled joints on her mother’s hands from the arthritis and the thin bird legs. She could just scoop her up she had become so small.
The daughter walked toward the kitchen and said, I’ll make us some lunch.
Oh no dear, her mother said.
The daughter stared at the back of her mother’s head, said, No trouble. She looked for food. You’ve got nothing! The daughter said. How can you have nothing. She opened and slammed every food cabinet.
Eggs, the mother said, Eggs.
You can’t eat eggs for every meal! But she pulled them out anyway, the fry pan, the butter, the milk. There’s only a drop of milk left.
Tastes the same, the mother said.
The daughter made same. She set the table, made her mother some tea. When the food was ready, she went over to her mother and led her to the table. The mother looked at her strangely.
When they were seated and her mother had placed her hand on her fork, the daughter reached for hers but stopped. Time to say grace, she said.
Since when? The mother said.
The daughter started to speak. Our father, she said, and burst into tears. Her soul filled her mouth. She swallowed, and it slid down her throat.
There only eggs, the mother said, Lousy eggs.
It was the day a grown woman moved in with her mother. Later, it rained and they watched the rain together.
I asked Dennis if we could get the Christmas tree, but he said he was busy. I said I knew he was busy. He said he had to study. I said I knew that. It was too early. But didn’t he want to get one? But why did I have to have one now? When then? Didn’t I understand the pressure he was under? He had to read for class. I told him he always had to read for class. He said he wouldn’t have to read as much if he wasn’t always being interrupted. I told him I wouldn’t interrupt him ever again. He said he had to get ready for exams for God’s sake. I told him all I wanted was a frigging tree.
I stood on the brown carpet amidst the tan walls in the empty spot where the tree was supposed to be. Before I had gotten the nerve to ask him, I had imagined it in front of the sliding glass doors where the lights could shine down on the parking lots and apartment buildings, on the snow piles and brown trees. My mom always had white lights, but I had decided on multicolored. White lights were elegant, for people who had made it. Colored lights were festive, for cozy homes. I had thought I would see the lights at night when I drove up and want to come into our apartment. Over dinner, maybe Dennis would say something, talk like he used to. We could hang lights on the balcony. I could bake cookies. Our lives would be full of Christmas card promise. I could get mistletoe. Maybe then he would kiss me.
Standing in the brown empty spot, I started to cry. Dennis said “God!” and threw his book across the room where it hit the pressboard stereo stand. I walked away, to the only other room. I flopped down face first onto the bed.
Now he was mad and another little girl dream slapped the floor like so many of the others. I went down the list. I hated Michigan. I hated the dark, the cold, the barren trees. I had no friends. My job was menial. I did everything I was supposed to: work, cook, exercise, clean. Had no fun. I was doing what I was supposed to do, and it wasn’t enough. Something was missing, and that something the tree could fix.
Dennis came in a few minutes later in his parka, putting on his gloves. I lifted my head up and saw his silhouette in the doorway, put my face back in the pillow. “What?” I said, muffled in down. “Come on,” he said, but I said no, forget it. He said “Come on,” in the tone that meant I better get up so I did. I zipped and bundled and dried my eyes with my gloves.
Outside my lashes and snot froze with my first breaths. The doors to the car creaked. Waiting for the engine to warm, I shivered in my seat, sat with arms folded, fingers tucked into my armpits. Dennis blew into his gloves, and his nose turned red, his cheeks pale. Our breath froze on the glass. Between that and the salt splatters there was only fog to see.
Dennis said, “Where do you want to get the tree?” I would have to decide where to buy it, which one to get now, because I had thrown a tantrum. It’s not that I didn’t worry about his school. I did. It’s not that I didn’t know about the stress, the competition, the slim hope of money. But, I needed a happy tree. I needed to smell it and see it fresh in our apartment, look at it aglow.
I looked at my husband. Maybe I was on Jupiter, not in Michigan at all. They say the gravity is so thick there it would flatten me like a pancake. I closed my eyes, pulverized and flat.
“Where am I going?” he said, still annoyed. Without opening my eyes, I told him to go to the fruit stand.
We drove in silence through salt white streets and dark snow. Neither of us reached for the radio. Neither of us looked at the other. The heat from our car didn’t warm my feet and soon they felt oddly numb, unattached to my ankle. I was supposed to put my feelings up on a shelf, and so I imagined a row of white shelves, a can of green beans, a can of sadness. But the shelf fell over and the cans fell and rolled down the stairwell into a cellar. My eyes popped open.
We pulled in. Lights were hung in the parking lot around the thicket of trees. It wasn’t easy getting out of the car with any sort of grace so bundled. The wind slammed my door closed. Walking with heads down, hats on, mufflers around our neck and mouth, the snow crunched underfoot. I smelled pine. Our breath made foggy clouds. It was Christmas. It was almost joyous.
“Why are we doing this?” he said. He walked into the tree lot. Dennis grabbed a tree and held it up. No, I told him, Scotch pine. One had to shop. The first tree found, even adequate, could not be selected. Besides, I didn’t like those blue short-needled trees. They looked half naked, like a Charlie Brown Christmas. We didn’t want a tree that looked unloved, did we? He said he liked them. I told him they were more expensive. His eyes got that worried look. This was going to cost money.
And then I saw the fruit stand lady. She was always at the stand, ringing up my vegetables every Saturday. She lived on a nearby farm. She ran the business herself. I liked her the way I didn’t like anyone else in Michigan. I liked what she did. I liked the way she smiled. I wondered what her house was like. I wondered if I would feel at home there, like at the fruit stand. And something else, she seemed happy. She was helping a family pick a tree. I would wait for her.
I went up and down the aisles slowly waiting for my turn. Dennis would grab a tree now and then but it was hopeless. I would not nod consent. They were too big, too small, too crooked, too holey. He was out of patience. I could hear it when he said, “What’s wrong with this one?” the way he wanted to say, “What’s the matter with you?” He didn’t receive an answer so stood firm. It was big enough. Full enough. Straight trunk. It was a beautiful tree. The fruit stand lady was free. I nodded at him and we walked toward her.
“Pick a tree?” she said. I wanted us to be happy tree pickers then. I wanted us to be on the way back from ice skating, on our way home for hot chocolate.
Dennis said, “Yes, how much?” He opened his wallet and thumbed through the money. I looked down at my boots. I looked up at the fruit stand lady, at those lines in her weathered face that told of laughs and love and growing things, sunshine. I looked at her and felt the first pangs of growth, thaw, there, in the cold. I had thought for a moment I wanted to ask her how to live, but I think she was showing me.
“Yes, we’re taking this one,” Dennis said, his lips cracked and white. And then the fruit stand lady did an amazing thing. She pulled out of her pockets bare hands in frostbite weather. She reached through the needles to the bark and hoisted the tree onto the table without any gloves. Her bare hands, wide and flat, thick and white, calloused and dried like jerky held the tree with one hand and a saw in the other, surgery. The cracks and crevices in her skin were like a map, a geography of where she had been, of where she could be. And I decided I would have hands like hers, a face of my own. Maybe it was the cold, but my lips stuck shut, frozen in a small, distant smile.
She wore no hat, only soft white curls all over her head. Her face was like Rhino skin with crow’s feet and smile lines. Her cheeks and nose were red and her breath came out in long curls. She winked at me with ecstatic blue eyes. She held my tree and made a fresh cut with her saw and then picked it up and twirled it. It could be anything it wanted, that tree.
Go down the long white hallway and listen to the black sucking noise each step makes . Notice the light bulbs in cages, the smell of roach powder. This, real like a dream but not. Pause to breathe before you knock. Here lives the father discarded, the father unwanted. Wearing his crown of thorns, he sits on his throne made of fiberfoam, watching Japanese action flicks, drinking liters of Coke, not waiting for the phone to ring. It won’t. He sits in the terry cloth bathrobe he will die in because he has gotten too fat for his pants–can’t spare the five dollars for another pair.
See him in the McDonald’s. He gets free coffee because they know his face there. He comes every day to smoke the cigarettes that will give him lung cancer, says hello to the girl at the register, the boy making fries, the manager. They say Hi back, used to seeing men like him with his pants safety-pinned together or only partly zipped up. They’re glad this one is friendly. He sits in the plastic booth by the door greeting anyone he recognizes. Some know his name, wave or shake his hand, bum a smoke. He is the swollen-faced man with big brown eyes like a deer’s, like a deer grazing that looks up at the sound of footsteps. Medication has made him an herbivore.
Sit down across from him at his booth. Imagine you take a picture. A camera can be a tool for seeing, not just something you keep between you. Press your eye wide against the viewfinder and stare with big lashes unblinking, safe behind the glass. We need the camera because we insist on frames for seeing. This is another man, not your father. Ask him to tell you his story. Listen. If you probe, a fact or two will roll out onto the table and stare up at you. He will say he has a beautiful daughter. He’ll show you a dated picture of her. She’s older now, has breasts.
There is no girl in the picture, only you looking angry and old. He will tell you his favorite song is Eleanor Rigby, the one about all the lonely people, but he will say this with a laugh that makes his head go up and turn, makes him look at you out of the corner of his eye like it’s a joke. Get it? He’ll tell you he has fungus in his ears. You’ll see the crust and believe him. What is wrong can’t be fixed, like death or past mistakes. So forget.
His daughter is sent to have lunch with him, because he is still her father, even though her mother is not his wife. The daughter has left the three-story house she lives in to sit in his
smokey room filled with furniture the social worker gave him and will take back when he is
gone to give to the next person . She sits with him in the McDonald’s embarrassed because she is from the suburbs and she knows how bad this looks. It is a sickly smile she offers to the girl at the register, the boy making fries, the manager, when her father introduces her, his daughter. She smiles sickly and looks into their eyes, a secret between them he cannot share.
When he takes her picture, she tries not to frown. Back at his apartment he offers her Coke in a dirty glass and will not take no for an answer. He wants to give her something. Gives her cookies out of a tin on the table, the chain he was wearing. The tin is dusty, the chain caked with greasy dead skin. When she gets home, she tells herself, she will wash. Every time she starts to speak she stops when she looks into his eyes. She stops at the eyes because they look like hers. Her tongue swells and sticks to the roof of her mouth. She pulls it loose and sucks it down into her esophagus. He gives her a sweaty hug that leaves her smelling of Old Spice and body fluids, waves goodbye until she is out of sight. On the bus, she knows she has forgotten to do something when she looks at him on the other side of the glass and so gives him the smile she can give him now that she is leaving.
She rides on the bus with eyes open, watching the sidewalks change from dirty to clean, wanting to be home already, but when she gets to her house she can’t feel the comfort there. If she could close her eyes and forget seeing his, it might be different, but those eyes wait for her behind her eyelids, make the green grass spread out before her become a lie, full of secrets she cannot share. This house before her becomes for dolls, a play house, pretend.
His past lives, the ones that can’t be seen: his father chasing him around the dining room table with a long, sharp knife. The boy runs, escapes, manages to get good grades besides, looked like the perfect American. That first life he left, rose up out of.
His second life: the tall young man walking home, greeting the folks in the old neighborhood, smiling because he has a new suit, a new job, a new wife, and a new baby. He is on a roll now, walking home to the shy Catholic girl he’d fallen in love with, a woman with brown hair that flips up when it hits her shoulders and her wide smile of red lips and white teeth. She has manners, nice legs, dresses with class, gave him a baby. People boasted, see the tall young man with a thick head of black hair over there? He’s one of us. He works hard. Made straight As in school and pizzas at night to earn extra money. Won a scholarship to City College. Knows five languages. Five. The next president, his family said, this man people want to follow. And likeable. Disregarded, no one noticed the tick in the neck.
In army intelligence they paid him to be paranoid. The constant foot tapping, the sweaty palms, the mind misfires. They still don’t know why. Now he can’t tell his story; this narrator can only tell parts, having found no explanation for how that world, gone, spun out and away from him. Explanations should make sense, have a right and wrong to them.
The father discarded does not read . Words become bloated and fill his head with fumes. His law books smell old on his bookshelf. God tells him he is Weingert Saint Weingert. Medication makes his hands shake, his tongue thick in his mouth so he slurs his words and drools. If he can sleep, he sometimes walks out into the hall, locks himself out of his apartment. There is no one to let him back in. He did not mean to leave, but now he has. He stands in his underwear in the hall light, confused.
It is too sad, this before and after picture, for his wife, his daughter. The mug that was his long since washed and drunk from by another, broken and not replaced.
It is good when he dies. Not that day, alone, in his robe, reaching for the ventilator, knocking over the chair, but after, when he is a coffin with a flag on it and the picture above it is of him as a young man. The family talks of how he was loved then and of his promise–the trail of cars following the hearse giving him what he had lost.
At the graveyard, there is a short service. People sit with a view of the coffin while the priest says words. When he is done, they say goodbye and go home. The father remains in the casket flanked by palms. Empty chairs sit in rows facing it, as if there were to be another service later. But all that is left is to put the chairs and plants away until next time and to bury the coffin in the ground. It sits waiting.
Visions that alter a day: go to the beach and click your hard white teeth, the you that will remain, and see your primitive-looking footprints picked up by the wind, grain by grain, swirled in brown clouds and scattered, dropped back down, but by then, your trace, imperceptable.
Section III: fini
For the Man Who Slammed the Door in my Face
He walks 10 paces in front of her but she does not care. She is beautiful. She takes pictures of the world wth her eyes. She molds the dough with her hands. She pushes the sand with her feet and makes a road to the sea. Her hips sway with her lover, who does, love, her.
In the afternoon, when the sun is soft on the curtains she goes to the garage and takes what she can find to make something more than herself. Concrete, broken glass. An old table. She makes a mosaic. He finds her, one afternoon, sitting out back wth the table and her in the lounge chair dress hiked up to feel the sun. Cold tea with ice.
“What the?” He says, robbed of explitives. She feels the perspiration on her lip, tastes the salt. So it comes to this moment. She has been waiting for it. She has been waiting for what she knows is the only option in her culture. There is no escape, not even in movies.
He picks up the table and turns it looking from all angles, tryng to imagine how such a thing happened. “How much did you waste on this?” he says.
She does not speak. “Answer!”
She does not know how to lie. “I made it.”
He turns red. He will not be embarrassed by a misbehaving wife. The table sails through the air and hits the fence. “Get me my dinner before I kill you,” he says. And she does. But her hands, cutting the tofu, are beautiful. She will have to remember life is dangerous. But then she remembers life is stifling, killing her. And she knows soon she will die. Because she can’t live this way. She does not know why she can’t.