Monday, July 28, 2008

Abdul gives anarchists a bad name.

Abdul likes to make bomb threats. He is the kind of anarchist who gives anarchists a bad name, and none of us knows why he is here. The only thing we understand about him is his name (which is an alias) - he looks like an Abdul. He is, for the most part, silent in a silence he hopes to be ominous and portentous.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


From her journals. Undated; probably summer of 1981.

When we got to Buffalo we headed for the War Memorial Colesium, where I thought the show was. Buffalo is a dirty, run-down place on the whole. The War Mem. was in a bad section, like Hartford going toward the North End.

The Collesium itself was a beat-up wooden place, open air like a baseball stadium. No ded heds or hairy people or lines of cars. The gravelly parking lots were practically empty (except for rusting car wrecks). We couldn't believe our eyes, after driving all that way, to arrive at a place like this. Was the concert cancelled? As soon as we came to a more decent neighborhood, we pulled in at a college and Keith and Leonard went in to call a radio station. Hank and I got out and stretched. We took out the tickets. On them it listed the collesium as the Buffalo Memorial.

Ah ha! We whipped out the map of Buffalo + sure enough, on the other side of town was a Buffalo Mem. Collesium. I painted WE FOUND IT on the car + Hank went to find L + Keith. He couldn't - came back and we waited.

We finally got together + left for the right place. The roads, especially main street, were all torn up with abandoned construction. The whole center was ripped out + lanes went on either side, very slow traffic. "I'd hate to see this place in rush hour," Keith said. "I don't want to think about that" Hank said, who was driving.

We parked a couple blocks away, got out, waited for Keith to roll some bones + went to find some cold beer.

No luck. Keith was very determined and we walked back + forth = at one point we were led from a liquor store ("go to the drug store down there") to a drug store ("must have meant the CVS, we don't have any") down to CVS and up carpteted stairs and to the back - NO COLD BEER! I didn't care, L. didn't and Hank was luke warm, but Keith really wanted some. No luck. We stood outside the door of CVS and people would come up to the door, Keith would say "No cold beer," and they'd say "No cold beer?" "Oh wow." "No cold beer! Wow." And they wandered away.

Soon we wandered away, explored a dull mall "How many shoe stores do they have in here?" Keith said. We went to eat lunch at a Wendy'swhere I got into the interior designing - brick walls, wall papered walls of 2 different designs, linoleum floor, carpeted floor of garish colors, mirrors, enlarged photos of farm scenes on walls, plastic tables (very modern), wood (?) carved doorways, and the inevitable strings of purple, pink, red, gold, yellow, blue, green plastic crystals hanging in strings from arches over the salad bar. Somebody said later, when I was describing this, "Yeah, and they had, you know, when you punch plastic out of a mold, it leaves little nubs?"

We waited for Keith to buy a bottle of rum - as consolation for not finding cold beer - to put in the Coke Hank had brought a six-pack of. In the parking garage we had wine, I gave everybody a couple hits of speed, and Keith w/ rum + Coke was rolling bones. I got the speed very cheap from a kid named Vinny - 3 Black Beauties for a dollar - I could have made a few cents selling them for 2 to a dollar but I'd rather give them to Keith and Hank who had been doing all the driving. Anyhow Keith was sitting on the wall against which our car was parked - second floor of the garage - the front of the car against the wall, over the wall was the ramp leading down to the first floor. I wandered around, painted We'se in Buffalo! on the car, + sat down beside Keith. Wondered if the cid was still working and admired the swirl-designs of the garage floor. On the other side of the ramp to the 1st floor was the outer railing + we could see across the street to other buildings, such as the mall. I was watching Keith + out of the corner of my eye I saw something fall - thought it must have been a jacket or something, but I remember an arm hitting the railing of our floor. (Keith says my eyes popped out of my head.) Nobody else saw it and at the time I thought they had seen it was a jacket + had not been worried. A minute later I heard a moaning + ran down the ramp, around the corner to the railing, expecting to see ... He was lying with one arm out, knees curled up. I ran down + saw Hank jump off the railing - I didn't want to jump that far. At the corner of that floor I jumped + went over to the kid. Keith appeared over the railing on our second floor + I looked up at the third floor - what a long way! I was sure he must have broken his back or neck or something, especially the way I thought he had fallen. A bus had stopped and the driver had gone to call an ambulance.

Soon the kids friends showed up - losers, dressed like tough guys which made them look pretty silly since they didn't seem to be older than fifteen or so. The youngest one started blubbering, his eyes puffy + face red from drinking - he said "Jerry, man, you can't do this to us" and the unspoken part was: we want to see the concert and you're ruining it. Meanwhile Hank was trying to keep the guy awake.

"Jerry" wasn't talking but staring with glassy eyes and screwed up mouth in pain. He rolled over on his back, put out his legs + lay there. We waited while the ambulance wailed down one street and another. people walked by, one guy strode toward us and after looking coolly at the kid, asked if we had any extra tickets. We saw the ambulance stop way down the street, flashing its lights, and it stayed there. We waited. Finally some kids passing ty ran down to tell the bastards they had the wrong place.

Etc. Etc. Etc. As it turned out, Jerry wasn't mortally wounded, could stand up straight in fact, and although obviously wasted on liquor (pills?) trying to get his feet in his sneakers and foaming at the mouth, his friends encouraged him to go to the show. "Come on man, you're all right, let's go to the show." Hank meanwhile was trying to talk them into letting the paramedics take him to the hospital - or Hank would drive - this seemed to satisfy the kids until Hank said "I want you guys to come with me," and they balked. Nobody offered to drive Jerry to the hospital for Hank, probably because these kids weren't old enough to drive. Jerry, who looked to be the oldest, was probably their transportation. Anyhow they finally walked off into the sunset and I really pitty Jerry for his friends - also for the way he no doubt felt the next day.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

New Site

Please visit the new tribute site here:
Stephanie Online - Finally, here, there is enough.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Sunday, January 01, 2006

See No Evil

On Friday Nicole's conscience left her and she was invisible. She was quite surprised by this, although she had never taken very good care of her conscience. She called after it to explain but all it said when it turned to her, thin and shining, was, "You are free now."


Nicole noticed that the hair which usually hung down into her eyes was not there. Raising a hand to find it she discovered that she had no hand, no arm, no shoulder, no body. "What did you do with my body? What's left? You can't do this to me."

The conscience, which usually was more than willing to argue, just turned and exited. Nicole felt like a toothpick or an eyelash.

"I thought I had an identity crisis before." She ran fingers she couldn't see over herself to make sure everything was in place. It was very upsetting to be inside of a body with eyes that told her she didn't exist. Every few seconds she had to look around her to be sure she could see everything else in the world. That gave her a strange feeling of being the only thing, the only thing invisible; a unique creature, a one-being species. How wonderful, how awful to be the only thing in the universe that was invisivle. And then it occurred to her that maybe she wasn't the only invisible thing - perhaps there were others. She wouldn't know if she couldn't see them and they didn't make any noise. Nicole breathed heavily to be sure she herself could make a noise. Then she wondered if others could hear her. Then she wondered whether she, being invisible herself, could see other things that were invisible to others. Why should she, she thought, since she could not see herself. But still she wished she had taken inventory of the world an hour before so that now she would be able to notice if anything had appeared suddenly.

Nicole found a chair and sat, noticing that the chair creaked and bent to her shape. How could she make herself visible again? She was fairly sure she wanted to be visible, although she could see many advantages to not being seen. Fun was fun, Nicole thought, but this was life, and she didn't really want to spend the rest of her life invisible. It would be so confusing. How would she explain it to people?

So where would one look for a conscience? Immediately Nicole thought of the church, but there was no reason for her conscience to go there. What would it do? She saw in her mind the conscience wandering up and down the pews, and it didn't seem to fit. The church was the place for tangible, solid things that wished for intangibility, not a place for freed consciences. If I were a conscience, Nicole thought, where ...? She remembered the old joke of catching a rabbit by hiding and making noises like a carrot. If I hid and made noises like Heaven, maybe I'd attract it, she thought. But how could I convince it to come back inside of me? And can I be certain that would make me visible?

She decided the first step was to find it and then figure out what to do. It would most certainly be outside someplace, not still hanging around the house, so Nicole went to the garage for her bike. No, she thought, that would attract attention. She couldn't hitchhike either. She started out on foot, looking around her all the time for a shadow or wisp of smoke disappearing behind a tree.

The city was in a friendly mood because it was spring. Bulbs were having noisy parties under the emerging trees. All the cars glistened with dew as if they had bloomed just that morning. Even the buildings looked clear and sharp, every brick and board stood out and the textures were shadowed like charcoal drawings. On this day, Nicole thought, someone without prejudice might consider this city a work of art; everything fits into place perfectly, everything is balanced, and surely there is some symbolism in everything if one has the time to figure it out.

She passed a bake shop window and, on an impulse, walked in. An Italian woman with black hair in a bun stoo, counting cookies into a white bag. Maria's Fresh-Baked Cakes it said. Maria reached forty, folded the bag down and turned to staple it. Nicole grabbed a handful of the raspberry filled cookies and darted out the door. The cookies, when she put her hands around them, became invisible. She ate as she walked down the sidewalk, still looking up and down for her conscience. As she finished the last one the prospect of getting her conscience back appealed to her less than it had, and she stopped to look in a Sage-Allen window at suede jackets. She wasn't sure she would like one if it were invisible when she put it on, so she kept walking, her eyes now watching store windows. It was dawning on her that she could now have virtually anything she wanted, being able to take items from stores without being seen. Her conscience said nothing - it wasn't there.

At a traffic light Nicole saw a truck with an inviting platform in back, and she leapt onto it, holding the metal door handles. The doors were locked, as she had expected, but the truck started up when the light changed, and she watched the city street roll effortlessly off into oblivion. She glanced around her every once in a while, out of a feeling of duty, but the conscience didn't appear. At another traffic light she hopped off and, mindful of the fact that cars couldn't see her, made it to the sidewalk safely. It would be awful, she told herself, to be injured now. How could a doctor help me?

Nicole stood sweating in front of the church door, her black dress clinging to her shoulders. She held the silvery handles of the doors with both hands, breathing in soft gasps.

"Wouldn't let me," she whispered, "why can't I come?"

She shivered as she pulled back the doors, which both opened at once. As she slipped inside, faces in the last rows turned to look. The church was dark, like the inside of a cupboard; hot, even in the May morning. And at the center of Nicole's vision, the minister tood in black robes, speaking slowly. He stood to the right of the closed casket. Nicole smelled flowers and flowers, not as flowers in open places smell, but as smoething dark and clawed might make itself smell if it attended church. The long black casket held her grandmother. Nicole saw bony hands and wrinkled mouth, saw it through the wood. Something crept up Nicole's legs and crushed her chest, put an arm down her throat, grabbed her ribs and pulled back. Screaming, Nicole staggered against the closed doors, turned, yanked one open and ran down a set of wite steps, into sunlight. Oh I'm going to die, I'm going to die.

Mist hovered just above the apple trees, and the apple blossoms smelled clean from rain. Nicole ran down park paths toward the ocean; pigeons hurried fluttering from her.


Nicole turned a corner and smiled at the sea. Behind railroad tracks and telephone poles the waves lapped calmly, stretching out to the horizon. What would it be like to swim, invisible, in clear water, Nicole wondered and crossed the tracks, running down a small slope. The beach was farther away than she had thought; by the time she reached it she was out of breath.

By the edge of the water with his light tan back to her was a boy with sandy hair. He was still, watching the sea curl its tongue up and then uncurl it, tasting shore sand.

"Hey," she said, forgetting she was invisible. He turned around and squinted at her voice.

"I'm sorry, I'm invisible," she said, lamely.

"Ahh," he said, still squinting. Then, "You come to look at the water?"

"Yes. I wondered how it would be to swim in it. Actually I'm looking for ..." Her words trailed off as she tried to remember what she was looking for.

"It's cold," he said. "The water's cold."

Nicole nodded and waited. She could see the sea with its breath held.


He looked back and nodded to it, and it came in. Nicole shifted her feet.

"You do that?" she asked, surprised.

He nodded and drew squiggles in the sand by his leg.


"Always have." He shrugged. "What's your name?"



They silently watched the sea a while.

"It does this all the time?" Nicole asked.

"All the time," Walter told her. "What were you looking for?"

Nicole frowned and then remembered that the other could not see her thinking. "I don't know. I guess I was looking for the sea."

"What about your conscience?" Walter asked.

"Oh, I don't have one, that's why I'm invisible," Nicole said, and then they were silent a minute.

"Can you make it go out and stay?"

Walter nodded.

"Do it," she suggested, but he shook his head.

Nicole picked up the brittle crab shell and blew lightly to clear sand from the curled edges.


Walter pointed at the sea with a brown finger. The sea sighed and drew back, rolled upon itself and retreated, leaving swept sand glistening. Farther up where the sand was dry and hot, walter sat, waiting. He stretched his hand again and the sea came in, like a tongue. Tiny slivers of silver exploded apart and fanned their fins in shallows, fought the retreating tide. Motioning, the boy ordered the water out; fish glimmered and were gone.

Stretching his legs out, walter brushed tan sand from creases in his bleached jeans, examined the frayed knees. His bare toes scratched each other. The sea held its breath in the distance. Walter nodded and it rushed in. Gills flapped from water-swept rocks. And walter shook tan hair from light brown eyes, putting his head back. His fingers which supported him were dug deep into the sand and were so close to its color that he might have been made of sand, might have been sand-filled glass, sitting stil, head back, sun-worshipping with shoulder-length hair across his bare back and almost touching the ground. His hair was a waterfall of sifting sand.

And the distant miles of waves calle in giant whispers. Walter lifted his head, motioning to the white fingernails of water. They ran forward across sand, held at arm's length, and with Walter's not, ran back again.

A crab with a dry shell ran across one of the boy's fingers, looking for the sea. Time, time, time, time, time. The crab's shell bleached and its flesh dried and its smaller bones fell into reddish sand.

Walter heard a giggle at the water's edge and saw a small girl wading ankle deep, splashing in blue water. He got to his feet and walked down to her, bending closer to her height. Still giggling she looked up and smiled into his eyes.

"Wet," she said. He grinned back, with white teeth like shell insides. Reaching in a jeans pocket he drew out a piece of bottle glass which had been worn into a rounded diamond shape, dotted with bubbles inside.

"Look," he said, and put the piece in her palm. The girl ran a finger over it and said nothing, but looked up again shyly. "Glass," he said, "old bottle glass. For your pocket." They smiled at each other. The little girl danced a few steps down the beach while Walter straighened and pointed to the water. When he looked back she had leapt from stone to stone and out a few yards. Seaweed swayed around the rock her feet were on. She leapt for the next one and landed wquarely, balancing with her small arms.

"Come back, " he called to her and she giggled, jumping again. When he waved the ocean in it lightly covered the rock she was on and she laughed, putting one foot out as if to walk on water.

"No, that's deep. It's deep out there, come back in," he yelled.

"Make the water go out," she said.

"No. You come in."

She squinted back at him from the mossy rock. "Make the water go out. I never seen that before."

The water hesitated, lapping her feet. She shifted her feet and one slipped, and suddenly her light arms waved desperately. Then she was in the water, holding onto the rock and yelling. Walter stood watching. The water did not recede. Clinging to the rock the girl spluttered through mouthfuls of water.

"Help me!"


Walter sat in the summer sun, twining the salty shoelace around his wrist. He pulled with long fingernails at the fraying end, knotted it once, untied it. Particles of sand sprinkled onto his faded white jeans. He looked out at the sea with eyes squinted, trying to catch the splash of a gull's dropped shell.

"Alright, now come in." The waves folled up to th ebeach. The gull lifted, circled, and flew away. "Go out." The waves went out, hitting each other in their hurry, dragging a light layer of sand back, back.

"Come in," Walter told it, and it came in. Long, flat, green seaweed, wavy at the edges like palm leaves, turned rhythmically, rubbed its tail on the sand. "Go out." The seaweed was swept back into its green birthplace. Walter got up sighing lightly and brushed sand from folds in his jeans. He looked up, remembering. "OK, come back in!" Sand clung to his bare feet, up to the ankles, up to where he had waded in the water that morning, the sun rising on the right and lighting misty rays through the lifted wave tips, so he could see the tiny grains of fish. Walter bent and rubbed absently at the sand, admiring the pattern of yellow and brown and black pieces, the black being mussels, and white. He turned to the water again, which held itself taughtly stretched up the sand. "Carry on like that," he said, and it sucked back in its breath, retreating. The boy turned and waded up the beach, holding his arms straight. He was tall but walked bent from leaning into the sea and walking in the sand. Blonde hair bleached nearly white, nearly transparent, fell straight to his shoulders. Behind, the sea faltered, and he spoke to it. It continued.

Walter saw the man before the man saw him, because the man was out of place, new, and dark like the earth. He stood with feet spread out, surveying the expanse of yellow sand running east. When he turned and saw walter, he smiled solidly and ran a thumb around the waistline of his brown slacks. He thumb made a soft dent in the flesh, like a finger in a wave.

"Hi there."

Walter raised his fingers a little in greeting, and walked slowly towards him.

"You live around here?" The man squinted at Walter's sand-color face, looking for the eyes. It was hard to see ...

"Yeah. I live over there." He pointed a bony arm across to the west and the man saw a shack in the distance.

"Oh," he said, confused. "Uh, well, is this, this isn't your land is it?"

Walter grinned and brushed hair out of his eyes. "Why, is it yours?"

The man laughed easily and put his large hands into his pockets. "Actually, yes, I bought it a few months ago. Yes." He lifted his chin to gaze over Walter's bent shoulder, his eyelids closed slightly over dark blue eyes.

"Man in thought," Walter said to himself, softly.

The man looked sharply at Walter, who started with surprise and then closed his mouth. Smiling still, but frowning a little the man looked down at the sand by his feet. "Well, I was thinking about the cottage I'm going to have built. Right, about, there," he pointed, considering, over Walter's shoulder.

"A cottage."


"I'd have to move?"

THe man tilted his head to one side. "Uh, not for a while," he said slowly. "It will take a while. Find a builder." He scratched his cheek. I'll have to get a good design, you know. I want a large window facing, facing the land, and one facing the sea, yes," he said, thinking.

" A window facing the sea?" Walter's greyish eyebrows lifted. "Ah. That's right."

The man looked at him for a minute, then nodded. "And I want a sun porch, I think."

Walter shifted his feet, toes sinking into the sand slowly. "Are you taking over, then?"

"Taking over what?"

"Well, the sea. That. Are you going to take care of it now?"

Completely confused, the man squinted at Walter, trying to see him. "I'm sorry, what do you mean?"

"The sea," Walter said patiently.

Walter looked back and was quiet for a long time. He turned around and looked at the sea. As he looked it poised in between coming in and going out; not freezing but settling still, not coming in or going out. It rocked slightly, waiting. Walter turned back to the man, frowning. He shook hair out of his face. "Go back," he told the man kindly, and the man turned, walked clumsily thruogh the yellow sand, into the distance. Turning, Walter smiled at the sea. "All right, go out now." And the sea rocked slightly forward, then rolled back as if cut loose, small waves slapping each other and blending, green, fading, blue, under the blue sky.


"Dead," she said wonderingly. "What must it be like?"

"Not like anything," the boy said softly. "Like nothing. Like not being. Like this, you keep going, the blood and skin become other things, but you stop being. Like this," and he waved at the water.

"Awful," she said.

"Simple, easy, the easiest thing there is."

Nicole ran a finger over the bumpy shell and then dropped it back into the sand. She heard a sound behind her. Turning, she saw herself standing, holding the shell. She looked back at Walter, then at herself. Reaching her hands out she found the conscience and covered herself with it, like a blanket. INside she stretched her fingers out to the tips of the glove-like skin and turned to walter. "There," she said proudly, but he was gone.

The sea came in.

Nicole put the shell in her pocket and walked back up the slope, with water sounds behind her.

The Island

They crawled up the beach, like evolution repeating itself. Mark's fingers dug into warmer and warmer sand until it was hot, sun bleached ground diamonds sticking to his hands. They rose on scraped knees and looked at each other. Diane's black hair fell in clumps in front of herlong face and from behind it she grinned, sandy-lipped.

Mark turned rightside up, sitting with his feet still in the water and Diane copied him, as she always did, because he was always right. Far off in the water the rowboat drifted away on a current, bobbing and shifting its feet, not knowing what to do with freedom. Neither did they.

"Ours." Mark patted the sand.

"Ours," she said, then happily, "How far do you think we are from shore?"

"Must be a long ways. We rowed forever. You got blisters?"

"No," she said, inspecting her palms.

"On those pretty hands." Smiling, he squinted towards the sea. "Can't even see it. Must be a long ways." He got to his feet and tried to dust the sand off his legs but they were still wet. "Wanna run?"

"I'll chase you."

He leapt like a startled rabbit, ran along the line where the sea shaded the sand brown. She, already higher up, sprayed sand from her heels. They hadn't gone far before Diane called to him across the spray-misted space.

"Too hard to run in this sand," she said and he ran back to her.

"We're gonna live here forever, just you and me," he said. She, grinning, caught her breath and ran a hand over her gritty mouth before kissing him.

And they could not see the boat anymore. Mark waded, ankle deep in sand up to where dwarf trees and bushes lifted leafless arms, begging for strength under the reflected sun. Past them a field of hairy grass waved and blended into coarse green weeds, which blended into a field of dandelions. He turned back to Diane. "Wanna see Eden?"

They stood in the dandelions.

"You think anybody'll come looking for us?" Diane asked from brown eyes.

"Yeah. I guess they will. We'll hide." He laughed at the joy of wild, dangerous love.

"Where?" A wind curved down over the field and they both turned to see it ripple the hairy grass, then sway the gushes, then the sea.

"Where?" she asked, a little lost but not worried at all.

"We'll find a place. Must be some woods or something. Don't think they'd search the island but they might. We'll find some woods." His face brightened like a child's. "Maybe a cave. How'd you like that? We could hide in a cave."


"I'll drive them out for you."

"Let's look for one." She waited for him to go. He took her hand and began trotting toward a stand of trees in the distance, at the top of a small hill. As their bare feet it the flower tops, honey bees lifted and hovered. Their feet left a thin mist of moving wings.

At the top of the hill they breathed for a minute, feeling the sun's brilliance catcvhing deep in their lungs, lining their mouths with gold. Diane couldn't keep from laughing, she was too happy.

Mark saw the sign first, and, dropping Diane's hand, walked down the slope to read the opposite side. It said

He looked up at Diane who was waiting under the clump of trees, at the hill top, the sun electrifying her hair. Then back at the sign. In small print at the bottom it said Maine State Police.

He called to her softly, giving her a chance not to hear, but she was beside him in a second, and she read the words aloud.

"Maine," she repeated. "But we came from there. This is an island, isn't it?" She watched him and waited for his response.

"Maybe it's too small an island to have its own name. Maybe it's the property of Maine."

"Private beach?" She was not lost now, but she was afraid. She leaned closer to him.

Mark looked around. A few yards away was a patch of dirt which, when he came closer and could see over the dandelions, became a wide road. There was a yellow line painted down the center of it.

They looked at each other.

"But we rowed out from the coast," Diane said. "How could we be back here again?"

"People walk in circles when they're lost in the woods," Mark said. "Maybe we rowed in a circle and landed farther down the beach."

"We aren't lost, are we?"

"No." He thought. "Maybe. I don't know." He turned away from the road.

"Shouldn't we see where it goes?"

"Do you want to?"

The wind blew at his back, towards the sea.

"Is this an island or not?" she pleaded.

Mark held his hand out to her.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


A quiet smile moved across Ellen's pale lips. She stood, hips resting against the cupboard, slicing a yellow onion on the counter. At each slice a tiny spray of oily onion juice misted upwards. Translucent concentric rings of onion lay on the chopping board, leaning on each other.

As she cut the last slice from the papery yellow skin she was blinking frantically; she stepped back and rinsed off her hands under the kitchen faucet. She was remembering the look on Jay Leed's face when he passed by their room in the teachers' dorm. She and Cal had been given the octagonal room in the center of the second floor and they had painted each wall a different color. Jane, who was just learning to talk, was delighted.

"Jane, this is red." And Ellen would point to the red wall.

"Red, ed!!" Jane would say gleefully, sticking out her belly.

construction paper cut-outs of the alphabet were Scotch-taped to the walls, Mother Goose illustrations, magazine pages, origami birds with their wings extended, pictures of whales and posters showing the plants of the solar system in their repetitive journeys through starry blackness. Jay Leed, the headmaster of the boarding school, had peered in at the chaos, his face stuck for a moment in appalled indecision, shook his head and walked on. Twenty years later the memory still made Ellen smile a private smile of mischief.

She dried her hands on the faded dishtowel, feeling her swollen knuckles. Arthritis at forty-five. In the old days she had had suchlovely fingers, long, thin and delicate, bare of rings, fingernails unpainted and cut close like a man's. Clasping her hands, she had felt beautiful.

Through the window above the sink, Ellen watched a robin bounce from branch to branch in the top of the apple tree, shaking down honey-sweet blossoms like scented snow. On her first day back from the hospital she had been speechless with joy for the beauty of the earth. On her second day back from the hospital she had stood in the kitchen, hands on her hips, looking about with amused criticism.


He came running in from his tomatoes. "Yes, yes what is it hon?"

"The kitchen."

"What's the matter?"

"I want it painted," she told him imperiously.

"Something really exciting, like orange. Bright orange. I want it painted bright orange."

He thought about it, slowly removing mudy work gloves. "All right, orange it is."

When her husband came in with the cans of Sears semi-gloss paint, Ellen could hardly keep herself from dipping the paint roller. Cal made her sit and supervise the work.

"You rest El, now hush, I want you to take it easy. Don't be so stubborn, you know what painting would do to your back. Sit! Sit! How about some coffee? I'll make a fresh pot."

So she sat at the table and he poured her coffee. Watching him bend his grey head over the white steam, she thought 'he's so good to me' and felt her arms go weak with love and gratitude. It was beyond love actually, it was huge and flowed through her, radiating outward, engulfing everything. Cal turned with the mug in his hand to see her blinking away tears. He went to her, bent down, spoke softly.

"Oh, honey, El, now none of that. You're home now, it's all over."

She drew a breath, fighting herself.

"When they put me out, when the doctor came in and said, 'Ellen,...' I thought..."

"I know, I know, shhh it's all right."

But she needed to tell him again.

"I thought to myself, I said, God, if you're there, I know I never believed in you, I've always tried to be the best person I could be,'" her voice strained against steadiness. "'I know I'm not perfect... God, if you're there, if this is it, I trust you to understand. And if there's a heaven...'"

"Ellen, now hush honey, you're home, it's all over. You're home, I'm right here."

She put her chin to her chest, biting the inside of her lip, then looked up into his face, broad with goodness. Behind him, the wall over the stove was still shiny with fresh paint, the newspapers flecked with orange and the roller resting in the tray. She breathed in the paint smell and suddenly smiled shyly.

"Do you remember Jay Leed?"

And Cal threw his head back, laughing at the ceiling.

She was smiling to herself now, though she had stopped blinking onion juice out of her eyes. It was time for a cigarette. She dropped into one of thekitchen chairs and sighed through her lips, feeling the familiar ache at the base of her spine. Arthritis again. She thought of lying down but knew she couldn't relax until the dinner preparation was done and off her mind. The cigarett, though it would surely be her death, tasted good.

Whenever she thought of her orange kitchen she thought again of Marie Caldwell. Miss Caldwell was a guidance counsellor at the high school; she and Ellen had first met to discuss Jane's academic difficulties. Reading books in class, not paying attention or, worse, correcting her teachers. Hearing this, Ellen was torn between irritation and amusement. 'I taught my child to read before she was in kindergarten,' she thought, 'of course she reads.' She felt the pressure of pride in her ribs. She and Jane were so alike, both rebels, it amazed her constantly. Ellen explained her point of view to Miss Caldwell. The two became good friends, and even after Jane graduated and left for college dorms, her counsellor visited Ellen every week. The two sat in the kitchen talking over coffee, buttering slices of home-baked bread.

"This is just delicious bread, Ellen, I don't know how you do it!"

"Oh heavens!" Ellen clicked her tongue.

They smiled wamrly at each other across the table and Marie looked away.

"It's a recipe I found in Good Housekeeping, you start with the white bread dough and then roll it out, rub butter on it," she was demonstrating with her fingers on the tablecloth, "and sprinkle it with this cinnamon and sugar mixture. Then you roll it up like this, tucking it in with your fingers... hey listen, next time you come we'll make it together, would you like that?"

"Oh, I don't know, I don't think I could make it as well as you do." She blushed.

"No really, it's very easy, I'll show you how next time you come and you can take some home with you. Marie, be brave!"

Marie dropped her head, smiling. "Yes, I'd like that very much."

Her voice, soft and musical, seemed to Ellen full of kindness, full of understanding for human sufferingand a humble love of human greatness. Ellen looked at the woman sitting across from her, the silk flower pinned to her light blue polyester blouse, the faint drift of lavander perfume, the rouge powder on her white cheeks. Ellen's stomach glowed with a strange warmth, her ribs tingled with nervous pleasure.

She saw herself in her own eternal jeans, the blue sweatshirt she wore even in summer to hide the roll of fat at her waist, her breasts that sagged, her thinning hair, her knobbly fingers. Often her appearance surprised her -- except for the arthritis, she didn't feel old. When the cashier at the grocery store called her Ma'am she looked around to see who was being addressed, and then remembered. It was difficult to become accustomed to, looking old.

"Ellen," Marie said, "how did you ever think to paint your kitchen orange? It's such an unusual color."

Ellen opened her mouth, uncertain. "Well I guess I'm a little unusual," she said finally, laughing.

Marie nodded her approval. "I love it," she said as if just realizing. "It's wonderful, what a warm color! I feel so comfortable here, in your kitchen Ellen."

Then they were both embarassed, and sipped coffee in silence.

The next week Ellen didn't hear from Marie. Ellen telephoned on Friday.

"Well, do you want to make that bread or don't you?"

On Tuesday when Marie knocked at the screen door, the dough had risen once and was ready for rolling out. They stood at the counter, sprinkling cinnamon and sugar with teaspoons onto the flattened buttered dough. Ellen breathed in the warm yeast smell, the dusty cinnamon, her nostrils wide with gladness for all sweet homey things.

"I just never could make bread," Marie told her, as if it were a secret. "I really admire people who can. It never wants to rise for me."

"Well you have to be careful when you dissolve the yeast, if the water's too hott it kills it and if the water's too cold the yeast doesn't work and your dough won't rise." She looked up to see Marie's face close to hers, looking back. Ellen struggled to meet the other's eyes and, with a great effort she did, finding herself in a world of placid blue. They stood gazing hypnotized. The oven clicked, preheating. The smell of cinnamon was making Ellen dizzy, nothing made sense, she could hardly catch her breath. Then, independent of thought, she leaned forward and touched her lips to Marie's.

Miss Caldwell did not come to visit again.

Ellen looked down at the long train of grey ash in the ashtray and put the cigarette out. She stood, pushed in the chair, went to the refrigerator and chose a cucumber from the bin labeled Crisper. With a paring knife she stripped the dark green waxy skin and began to slice. The lices lay on the chopping board, pale green with clusters of white shiny seeds in their fleshy centers. Halfway through, Ellen laid the knife down. Picking up a cucumber lice she looked at it, the squared off edges, theperfect pattern of seeds, felt its cool wetness in her fingers. Leaning over the countertop she covered her face with misshapen hands and wept for all the world's beauty.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Don't You Leave Me Here

“Heh heh,” he says to the naked woman. She smiles up at him from satin sheets, a wind through the open window ruffling white lace on black skin, and Scott turns the page. He’s sitting in the tattered green chair with a glass of Jack Daniels, the ice cubes rattling softly, the Penthouse on his lap, saying “Heh heh” over his red beard. His thick arms rest on the arms of the chair and white stuffing seeps through the upholstery. He says to me, “Hey little girl, you seen Joey? He back from work yet?”

Joe and Scott on Saturday afternoons watching Kung Fu movies on TV, talking about Friday night, Joe says, “That new club Stage West, they got these moving stairs going up to the second floor.”

“Oh they got moving stairs, do they Joey?”

“Yeah, there’s one set going up and one going down.”

A stream of grunts comes from the television set, hands and feet flying, flesh hits flesh. Scott leans back looking at Joe, his eyebrows raised in mock admiration, his knuckles tufted with red hair.

“Well ho-de-do, they got moving stairs, going up and going down!”

Joe nods with dignity but Scott slaps his knee, eyes sparkling. “How about that, eh little girl, moving stairs, that’s a real first-class joint, I’ll have to go and check it out.”

Joe pushes his glasses up his nose and rolls his eyes at me. Scott says, after consideration, “Moving stairs, ho-de-do!”

Joe gets up slowly and shuffles over to the coffee table. He brings out the white HI-FLYER frisbee upturned with a quarter ounce of shake in it, sits back on the couch and runs the front flap of a Zig-Zag pack through brown leaves, holding the frisbee slanted. Round shiny seeds roll to the curved bottom. “‘Only one paper can be pulled at a time,’” he reads off the pack, “‘Qualitie Superieur,’ hmmm.” On the front flap a man who looks like a pirate is smoking a rolled cigarette. His eyes disappear in black ink.

My mattress is in the attic, by a small window at the base of the roof. Through the window I watch the street, the yellow school bus stops outside, I watch the wind in the tops of the trees. The roof slopes upward in a pyramid; its sides come down to crouching-height and its point is higher than my fingertips can reach. The brown wood beams smell dry and dusty in the heat. I sleep surrounded by boxes that say Welch’s Apple Juice, Sanyo Receiver, Markel Quartz Heater, Ellington Farms Produce. There are boxes of clothing (some mine) and a box with DC painted on it in day-glo orange which is for my dirty clothes. I watch black leaping spiders drop lines of silk from the rafter to the window sill, and one afternoon I saw an egg sack bloom into baby spiders, almost too tiny to see, colorless and many-legged, spilling out into the endless air.

In the evening Joe quietly gets drunk (sometimes when Joe is drunk he lowers his head and nudges my shoulder saying “baaaaa, baaaaa” tenderly) and we watch television. Scott isn’t home yet, the midnight movie comes on, and then Scott’s old Plymouth chugs into the driveway, I can hear the rust rattling in the fenders. Scott comes in with his girlfriend, a tall black-haired woman who chain-smokes Camel straights, blowing the smoke upward, her lower jaw extended, teeth bared, the smoke spreading angrily from her. She sits down on the couch, Scott sits next to her and she tries to pull her skirt free from under him.

“Hey Joey guess what, Marla here can’t find her car.”

“She can’t find her car?” He looks at her. “You can’t find your car. Where’d you leave it?”

Marla yanks the skirt out. “If I knew that I wouldn’t a lost it right?” she says petulantly.

“She parked it somewhere around here, we was at the Bridge Street Pub and we walked around looking for it, couldn’t find it, it’s really hid good. Marla here, we had a pitcher of that iced tea at Carry Nations, that Long Island Iced Tea they got there, and Marla’s really wasted, heh heh,” he elbows her side, “aren’t you, Marla. You can’t hold your liquor, you know that girl? Hey, are you feeling a little sick, you gonna throw up? You want me to show you where the bathroom is? Heh heh heh.”

“Scott, you’re a bastard.”

“Mmmm, I know that, Marla.”

“I could drink you under the table.”

“One pitcher of Ice Tea, ...” Scott says and Marla taps an emphatic finger on his knee, “under, the, table!”

Joe pushes his glasses up his nose. “Well Martha, ah Marla, you must be pretty drunk if you lost your car.” He nods to himself in agreement.

Scott chuckles. “You know what else?” Marla is staring at him. “She left her keys in it too.”

We all laugh, we can’t help it, except Marla who stands up, bumping the lamp. It wobbles back and forth.

“I don’t have to take this tinda, kinda shit from you.”

“Ah, settle down Marla.”

“And I don’t have to listen to that from you Scott, don’t you order me around, you asshole, I’m not hanging around here. I’m leaving.”

She grabs for her pocketbook strap and misses, grabs again and gets to the door.

“At least I’m not a fucking junkie like you Scott,” she yells. “At least I’m not a fucking alcoholic like you, Joe.”

She slams it behind her and the doorbell which never works when you push the button, now rings in sympathy with the door.

Joe rolls his watery brown eyes and Scott shrugs. “What d’they got on the movies tonight little girl?”

In sweet autumn Indian Summer, Scott and I sit on the porch in broken down chairs, the paint peels and I scrape at it with my toe. The neighbor’s calico cat wanders up the steps and rubs her arched back on the railing. It’s China White all afternoon, slow and sleepy, I look through a gap under my eyelids and the maple trees are leaping out of their own souls in red and orange, the birches swing and lift loose yellow leaves. The old man next door rakes leaves into piles and his wife watches from her front steps. She smiles and I smile back. Inside the house Joe is banging pans, running water, boiling spaghetti noodles. I hear his heavy feet cross into the front room, hear him slip a record on the turntable and scratchy Hot Tuna drifts out through the screen door; don’t you leave me here, pretty baby if you go give me a dime for beer... Scott chuckles. “Heh heh.” He sings softly, barely moving his lips. “Well I never had one woman at a time, now if you see me, tell I’ll always have six-seven, eight or nine... don’t you leave me here, don’t you leave me here... pretty baby if you go, leave me a dime for beer... don’t you leave me here.”

We live on Flower Street. Two blocks down and across Main is Jack’s Grocery, a tiny shop with bald-headed Jack behind the counter. Farther up Main is the park, then the white church and Friendly’s Ice Cream on the other side, then Harvest Beads and Silver where you can buy carved pipes, Afghanistan socks, tiger-eye necklaces and concert tickets. Up at the corner is the Antique Store and from there you can look all the way down Main Street. There’s the Coin Exchange and the Prayer Tower with its yellow cross saying Jesus horizontally and Saves vertically, and the Adult Bookstore (movies 25 cents) its windows covered in grey paper and three black Xs painted just above the window sill.

On Sundays we go to the Prayer Tower for the free cheese they give away. It comes in one-pound blocks, bright yellow, wrapped in thick plastic and put in long cardboard boxes, coffin-like, saying Pasteurized Process Cheese Food in humorless black letters.

“What is this Cheese Food stuff?” Joe says contemptuously.

Down past the bookstore is Mary Lewis Youth Shop which sells Indian print skirts and pre-faded jeans, and then the Goodwill and the pawn shop and the Woolworth’s and the plasma center on the corner where the highway goes past, into East Hartford.

There are five traffic lights on Main Street between the Antique Store and the highway. During the day the street is blue and dusty between cars; at night the store windows are dark, reflecting the white streetlight and the white of your face. The yellow cross glows all night. Crazy George wanders by, headed for the park. Sometimes we see the Christian, which is what we call him, not knowing his name. He stands quietly under a light, rapt and raising his hands, palms outward in wonder. Sometimes we hear him blessing the glistening cars as they pass.

Warm afternoons I count filthy jean-pocket change and go to Friendly’s for an ice cream cone. Crazy George is there in a green army coat and knit cap pulled to his earlobes, mumbling to no-one but himself and then, white eyed he suddenly slaps the counter, looking up. “Hey, can I have a refill?”

Sometimes I see the Christian sitting at the counter on one of the revolving stools, a five-scoop sundae in front of him, a maraschino cherry sliding slowly down the whipped cream, leaving a trail of red syrup. He folds his hands in front of him and humbly lowers his head, saying grace.

Joe brings home boxes of free tomatoes; we have tomato sauce, tomato salad and tomato sandwiches. Scott slices the tomatoes and places them mushy, full of seeds, between brown bread; no butter, no mayonnaise, just bread and tomato. “Heh heh,” he says to me, raising his red, thick eyebrows. I buy bags of frozen peas at Jack’s Grocery, we live on frozen peas, tomatoes and brown sugar.

Once I found a cornfield and filled my shirt with ears of corn but back at the house, Joe shakes his head, looking out over the frames of his glasses with amused sorrow. “Cow corn.”

“I can’t eat it?”

“Naw, it’s cow corn.”

I shuck it anyway, peeling down the threads of translucent silk and dumping the ears in the double-handled aluminum pot.

But it’s mealy and tasteless, I take one bite and give up, and the precious butter melts down into the puckered kernels.

* * *

Joe wrote to me last week; he’s stopped drinking and found Jesus. He says how’s California. He says he thinks of me and what am I doing? The other night I dreamed I put my foot through a pane of glass and drew it back, glass slivers stuck in my shoe. But I saw Scott, who is dead now and free, walk through the web of cracked glass as if through air, chuckling in his beard. I would like to say that I sang to him, maybe about leaving a dime for beer, but I never could carry a tune, even in my dreams.
Blog Flux Directory Blog Flux Directory