Elfie, a cellist from Düsseldorf, had joined the Berliner Philharmoniker only recently. Despite her initial shyness the camaraderie of the ensemble had soon made her feel quite welcome, loosing her at last from the patriarchal clutches of her strict Rhineland upbringing. In fact, within the first month she had begun passionate affairs with both a timpanist by the name of Ernst and Simone, the conductor’s beautiful assistant. She soon began to wonder just how many affairs of the heart were going on within the orchestra. At rehearsal one day, in the middle of the particularly energetic adagio of Bartók’s Divertimento for Strings, the bow slipped from her hand and landed at the feet of Andreas, a contrabassist. Both he and the player adjacent, Sabine, reached for Elfie’s bow, their fingers touching, then locking briefly, each returning a knowing grin. In consort, they turned to Elfie with the bow, Andreas with a wink, Sabine seductively biting her lower lip.
It wasn’t working. None of it. Not that particular summer. The rituals scurried off, toe-tapping and juniper-burning useless. The front yard, symptomatically vacant, requested redress, and so she filled it with a Saturday sale, dragging onto the lawn his boyhood nautical rope mirror, her collection of pastel pinwheels, three black Oaxacan skulls, only the most sullen of her porcelain dolls. A fair trade, a swap of sentiment for narrative victuals. Something to break the leg of the devil, as the Sunday morning flea market rug dealer says. She needed to crack it with a thick wooden mallet. Split it wide apart and chase the slippery sorrows, reckonings, psychological antiquities.
The worst thing that’s ever happened to you.
The most inhumane thing you’ve done.
Your preferred profanation. (17 fucks, 8 cocks, 4 pussies, 2 cunts)
Your earliest childhood memory.
She reaches for a green woolen cardigan hanging on the bathroom door’s backside and slides herself into it. Within the pockets, crumbling snowflake-patterned Kleenex, a rifle-wielding plastic figurine, a matchbook from the local sushi restaurant. And from inside these lives of others, she hears water rushing forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards.
Mescal was dripping onto the tile floor. This would cause problems later. She looked down to see that two lime wedges also lay there, one of them showing signs of having been crushed beneath a sole. Things were presently, currently, tilting and blurring. The petite ceramic vessels of agave’s fermented fluids could be held accountable for some of this but not culpable completely. Something about the way he licked the salt from his fist. Something about how he conjectured the likelihood of feral mapaches lurking through the yard and he said of these masked beasts who tear koi in half and toss the guts into rose bushes, rip legs from kept, wading tortoises, force dogs into swimming pools to drown them: “They’re not vicious.” And so he swayed into the dark, swinging a bag of empty bottles and cans like a privileged hobo, warding off negligible predators.
The door swung open as the matte newscaster reported the Rincon Valley fires were zero percent contained. They silently watched the flames dance on the screen, their own bodies pressed hard together, shoulder to shoulder. Balancing the bowl on the overturned tips of her fingers, she pursed her lips to blow and wish.
Deb’s text said, “I took the dog for a very long walk.”
I was typing when the next one came through.
I couldn’t help thinking how much better all of it would have sounded in telegram form.
I’m not blaming her for owning a pair of 9-inch pinking shears with Japanese stainless steel blades. It’s incidental, I guess, that she does some tailoring for extra money. Shortening skirts, dropping hems, letting things out. Fat people get skinny, meet someone, fall in love, break up, get fat, get skinny, and start over. Deb’s got a turnkey business for life.
The zigzag I chewed down the center of her silk ivory blouse with mother-of-pearl buttons looked like a cartoon version of a highway splitting in two after an earthquake. She wore it last month to her favorite Aunt’s service and it still smelled like her perfume and deodorant. It was her funeral blouse.
It was easy to cut cloth. Enjoyable, even. I wondered how she stopped herself from cutting everything apart whenever she got a job. Once I’d made it through the chest of drawers and began moving to the closet, I put down the shears.
“We’re over STOP Please stop STOP”
Christine and Dirk have couples therapy on Willoughby every Wednesday evening. Dinner follows controlled emoting and so our Mozza reservation is for 8:30 p.m. and I’m early.
I was there on the night when Christine and Dirk first met, at Jumbo’s Clown Room, when I was first dating Claude and he went everywhere with Igloo, his new Staffordshire, and on the night they met, Claude checked on the dog seven times, eventually irritating the bouncer so considerably as to have been banned entry to Jumbo’s for a year. While I waited for him, I watched a girl in pasties shimmy down the pole to “One Way or Another.”
Dirk and Christine have been together and apart many times since Claude took Igloo to Vancouver and left me with an enormous unpaid gas bill, a half-painted bedroom, and a case of herpes in my right eye. My opthamologist almost seemed embarrassed in delivering this bit of news, politely warning me of its dormancy and its degenerative nature. I remember laughing at the use of the word “degenerative” because it seemed like only a fucking degenerate would have a sexually transmitted disease in their eye. I’d just thought my vision was failing, but it was worse than that.
“It’s unreal,” she said, “the epidemic length of our many brittle bones.”
He’d told her, months ago, that she tasted like tears and she wasn’t sure if this was an idle, forgettable observation or an utterance driven by concern. It did not seem unusual to her, however. Why not taste like tears?
She’d been counting the number of syllables in his sentences for weeks now. Thirty-seven used to describe the ultimatum that he allegedly and audaciously flung at his employer in the break room. Fifty-four syllables devoted to his account of a speeding motorcyclist nearly ripping off his driver’s side mirror on Wilshire.
‘Covered in the sediment of sentiment,’ she repeated in her head.
“Rats live on no evil star.”
“Madam I’m Adam.”
“Eva, can I stab bats in a cave?”
An infant has more than 300 bones inside of its body. These fuse, producing the sanctity of the skull, sacrum, hips, building an average adult body of 206 bones. Pieces are not lost, but bound, becoming something else.
‘A case of mistaken identity, a mistaken case of identity.’
She inhaled and he continued speaking and the buttress, which is to say her entire body, was still.
Ronny climbed into the king-size bed with her new glue gun in one hand, a box of vintage brass and wood buttons, twine, yarn, and miniature pompoms in the other. Sitting cross-legged on top of the down comforter, she organized her supplies. She went to the hall closet to get brown craft paper and strips of colorful wrapping paper and returned to the bedroom. Their two retriever mixes, eighty pounds apiece, crawled onto the bed beside her, stretching, the youngest one gnawing at the spool’s loose end. The television was barely audible, but Fred Astaire danced across its screen in “Holiday Inn.”
Every year, Ronny wrapped the Christmas gifts, adorning them with brazen craftiness. It was the recipient’s astonishment she craved. It was the most obvious intricacies she adored.
Tom, Ronny’s husband of 17 years, was outside, unfurling the downy cotton carpet onto the anemic grass of their lawn, continuing the pretense of celebrating a white Christmas in Montreal or Tahoe or any other number of places they’d sworn to visit but hadn’t. Tom moved the LED snowman from the front to the back of the tableau and thought how different it would look at night. Everything seems different at night.
I’m in mourning. I’m in the midst of bereavement. That’s it.
My walk to work used to be five hundred twenty-four feet from door-to-door. I knew the city, its walkups and its trees, its graffiti, some of it partly obliterated by the city’s attempts to sanitize its streets. I knew the homeless slumped on its corners and I knew when they were gone, leaving behind a stuffed animal in a baby carriage or a sleeping bag sprinkled with torn cardboard.
My husband brought me here. He should be grateful I’m in this new city as his partner, though I cry consistently, like daily prayer. I weep while grocery shopping and a kind sales associate with shiny hair and scrubbed skin offers me homeopathic cures and I bring home more and more supplements to stock our cupboards and my husband and I impatiently wait for them to take hold.
Everything is not all right.
He’s better-looking than me, did I mention that? We’re the couple people look at and wrinkle their noses and raise their shoulders in confusion, cock their heads to one side and I can see them wondering, ‘How did this happen? How did you two end up together?’