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.
He sleeps in a graveyard because the living give him more trouble than the dead. Sticks and leaves twisted into his curly hair, the color of apples forgotten in the sun, sliced open and oxidizing on damp pavement. There is no stench of rot and wet earth when there is nothing to serve as contrast. It is the scent of his life.
In Jayne Mansfield’s cemetery, he would dream below the words etched there and he would run his fingers across the recesses of the letters and speak the syllables. He says, aloud, in the faulty voice of the forgotten: We live to love you more each day. As dew settles on the grass, he brushes it away, then stretching onto his back, staring through the eucalyptus trees to see dragons and mollusks floating in the air.
He finds certain headstones can impersonate flesh, growing warmer, more pliable and bodily as he presses himself against them and this is no illusion, as his panting breath becomes a character of its own, a gang of flightless crows who taught themselves to speak, asking the wind and the rocks and the mighty stillness across this stretch of earth, “Why you? Why you?”
You are looking contemplative while picking seeds from your watermelon wedge. Your two children chasing one another in the close distance, on acid green grass that never leaves a trace of footfalls. For you, their endless game of chase is ordinary, but I marvel at the absence of capturing and holding the hunted. But mostly, I am wildly occupied with rearranging the features of their actual faces like fictitious flash cards, carrying one image into the next, but trading brown eyes for blue, blonde hair to black, seraphic waves becoming fine, bone-straight strands. My ability to recall images is near to eidetic, a problem only when it comes to wishing away your face and my memory of it so close to my own. The slipperiness of your wet hair. How your mouth moved when you’d say “beautiful girl” while pushing overgrown bangs from my eyes.
A single moonless night might have revealed you. Hearing a single hushed voice murmuring “I miss you” in the valiant darkness of your kitchen, protected by a blacked-out sky. You would not, now, be dropping seeds onto a paper plate in midday light, every so often endangering an afternoon idyll by glancing at my feet.
Passing the butter biscuit around the imperfect circle, some kids were leaning back on their hands, uninterested. A couple of boys licked it, another took a bite, daring to devour it. The cookie was smaller and sullied by the time it reached Rachel, who sat by the visiting instructor’s brown leather lace-ups. The man took the cookie into his hand from Evie, the final cookie recipient, wrapped it in a paper napkin, and declared to the seated, snickering group with the cookie held high, “This cookie is one sex partner.” He went on to say several things with an unnaturally stable tone, his voice maintaining the same timbre with each successive word. “Assume that the person you’re sexually pleasuring has already pleasured many before you.”
In the afternoon, Rachel dropped her books by the front door, stopping in the kitchen to grab an orange jelly candy from a glass jar, chewing as she walked into the backyard. There had been an incredible, rapturous explosion of daisies that late spring. Impervious to poison, they struck down death. Rachel sat cross-legged in their midst, knotting daisy chains for future queens, hearing the words of her mother, promising, “God satisfies all our longings.”
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”
The idea of the kissing booth had been proffered as a gag. Aiming to earn money for St. Vincent de Paul, a school with too many students and not enough chairs, Peter, the English teacher, joked about a dog-kissing booth at the annual fundraiser, mostly because Peter’s bulldog has a tongue that can’t stay within the boundaries of its mouth. The off-hand kissing booth remark evolved into the agreed-upon plan of action and Jeremy and Mimi, by far the most attractive teachers in the school, were selected as the pair fated to smooch strangers and neighbors for $5 each. The sign beneath them both read: No refunds. No two-fers. “And no tongue,” Mimi added every once in a while, met with shaky laughter from the queues.
When darkness dropped, the kissing booth shut down, their triumphant jars spilling ones and fives, Jeremy and Mimi discussed how tired their lips were, how desperately Jeremy craved deep dish pizza, how nervous some of the buyers had seemed. Mimi had the sense that her dry, perfunctory kiss was among the most poignant moments many of her recipients had undergone, and so she wished she’d prepared a benediction, and she wished she’d tried a little harder.
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.
They were exchanging imitation porn star names again, aiming to win a game from which no determined victors could arise.
A tendency towards edible names was obvious.
“Men love to imagine eating women,” she said. “But it’s all bravado. When that possibility presents itself, a woman wanting to be wholly eaten, these loud-mouthed men promising to lick Lemon Tart’s zest until it’s ‘nuthin’ more than a smooth nub’,” they cower.
The tattoo on his right forearm, a perforated line from wrist to elbow with the words“cut here to get the job done” dancing along its length, belied his affection for the heavy scent of jasmine in bloom and his perseverance in reading James Joyce’s “The Dead” by a 40-watt bulb underneath a stained, crooked drum shade. As a teenager, he’d lived in his parents’ garage and microwaved macaroni and cheese for dinner, refusing to follow their rules.
A decade later, he’s forgotten the rules he’d forsaken.
He didn’t make a sound. He disagreed with her, aware with clarity that recoiling from her offerings or challenges was ridiculous. She was delicious. Unassailably. Whatever she wanted, he would not refuse.
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 have *single* digits remaining of A Quiver for Lapsed Romantics. And you know what, dear lovers? They make excellent holiday gifts and stocking stuffers and are easy peasy to pack up and ship. Here’s a portion of one of Quiver’s stories. For the rest, grab a Quiver copy right here: http://bit.ly/SEWsfr. :)
How will you stay in love next time? What will you do differently?
You will accept uns
olicited gifts graciously, no matter how unlike you they are.
You will not pass verdicts in an accusatory way, proclaiming ‘Your sense of smell is bad’ or ‘You aren’t a good dancer’, then attempt to back away from such statements like bloody road kill that’s crept onto the sidewalk.
The decision to spend $142 plus shipping on sex toys, thus being short on the electric bill, will be reevaluated. You will likely not do this again, but you might …
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.