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?’
We knew Dr. Hendrickson was wealthy. His backyard patio had an arrangement of outdoor furniture that included a three-cushion sofa, a settee, two armchairs, and a rectangular marble cocktail table, mimicking a very similar arrangement indoors. My sister Norah hopped onto the sofa and began stroking the upholstery with her left hand, exaggeratedly mouthing the word ‘WOW’ and beckoning me with the authoritative movement of one compelling index finger. It was camel-colored calfskin. Calfskin furniture left outdoors. Incredible. In his bathroom, he had enough white towels to open his own spa, folded into thirds and stacked in rows above the Jacuzzi tub, the front alcove boasted imitation paintings of famous paintings I remembered having seen at the Museum of Fine Arts years ago. Live people hired to render the work of dead people, framed in gilded gold.
Norah says Dr. Hendrickson fell in love with our mother’s molars before anything else, caressing her X-rays and wobbling at the knees and going faint for her overbite. Before he began pursuing our mother, we regarded him with the safe deference appropriate for one’s family dentist, but this is all changing. He still cleans our teeth, but Mom’s asked us to call him Mark.
The little boy was demanding, even as an infant. The nanny weakly defended his staccato screaming as “attempts to find his voice.” But his mother instinctively knew he was abnormal. His older sister’s single odd quality was her pair of preternaturally skinny ankles, which she, ashamed, covered with downturned socks. She’d rarely cried. No normal child found its voice by screeching and groaning like a trapped beast and flinched when gently touched as if being cauterized. In between inconsolable paroxysms, however, his face would take on a beatific gleam, his mouth a thin, rigid line, long lashes blinking up, down.
At school, the other children made paper mache elephants, zebras, and alligators, whinnying and snorting. The little boy created a warped, unpainted mask, which calmed him the moment it was strapped onto his head. He wore it to bed at night and indoors during daylight, but wasn’t allowed to wear it outside. The family forced him to take it off at the dinner table and he refused to eat. Behind the mask, he was silent. His mother forgot the sound of his voice. She forgot the features of his face. It took days for them to realize he’d vanished altogether.
She waited for him to ask something like, “Do the drapes match the carpet?” as his eyes roved along her red hair, flitting between her tresses and the gooey red pie on his white ceramic plate. By the time he’d ordered the cherry pie with homemade whipped cream, she’d reconsidered everything immediately available to her – her car parked outside, visible through the window, the smudged napkin dispenser on the table, the little boy behind her bouncing up and down in his booth, shaking her in the tufted red vinyl seat.
He’s asking if she’d like a bite of his pie. “It’s real good,” he promises.
She shakes her head, wipes her eyes, suddenly wet and aching. “I’m allergic to cherries.”
The guts of bugs splattered on her unwashed windshield, ripped copy of “The Broken Span” in her backseat. It is at the edge of a petal that love waits. She’s still searching for flowers, understanding that they won’t last, left on their own or plucked too early for pageantry. How long would it take her to reach the swinging door that reads both Entrance and Exit? How can the way in be the same way out?