Sunday, November 23, 2008

Friend Behind The Mask

I extend my hand deep into the quick sands of time and lock my hand around something which has been pulled down deep by the strength of gravity. With grave effort, with great curiosity and a sense of awe, I unearth a little katchina doll, a creature with dark brown eyes and tan skin. Her hair is short now, but I remember when it was long and tangled, a massive web of a thick dark mane. Now I am in her kitchen. The window overlooks Beach street and a white building across the way. It is a beautiful window which lets bright sunshine in.
She chops, stirs and shuffles around the kitchen with a look of seriousness frozen upon her face. Her body is plumper than I remember. The girl I knew had muscular legs and arms, her body was lean. I try to capture her in a photograph. The photo is wrong, this is not the girl I remember, but a glance upward reveals that it is an image of the woman before me. The stress, the anger and frustration, I had thought it was all a game, a mask she liked to try on when we were younger, but now it seems bigger than her, a presence that holds her captive. Her new friends expect it. She expects it. A familiar persona.
Searching for my playmate of old, I continue to take picture after picture. I am always looking at her carefully, looking for what I want to see revealed. So often she is grimacing, it looks as if she is in great and terrible pain. Her face flickers with variations of the endless grimace. There is a smile that is a tight mask of horror, a neutral facial expression that looks as if she is baring her teeth menacingly, and a frown that seems to be the least pained of the three. Her neck is tight.
Sitting at the table at last, so much of the work has passed, and even now that she is more relaxed, she is more of something that I thought was an act as a child. I wait patiently to see my friend and at last, for no particular reason, our eyes meet and she is there for a flash, surprised and relieved that I was waiting there for her. My heart tingles warmly because she is alive behind all that heavy armor.
Later amid talks of workouts in the gym and loss of weight, I suggest that she go back to chasing after ice cream trucks. For a moment she is there again, the girl I remember, and she is glad that I remember. And I do, I do remember Angela. I remember that we tore down the burning white sidewalks, the pads of our bare feet pounding against that scalding surface with a dull thud, our hair flying wildly behind us. Faster and faster we ran, listening to the retreating sound of Beautiful Dreamer played over a loud speaker, unable to slow down lest we should feel the horrible burning sidewalk on our soles, unable to stop lest we should loose all hope of catching that van full of cold treats. We ran and ran and ran. The way I remember it, we never caught the truck. The way I remember it, we didn’t really care if we caught the truck. We said that we did care just to have a reason to run like this, like wild things down the meandering circles that were the streets that made up our neighborhood. We ran until the circle had brought us back home, to her green front yard, to the porch where all the shoes sat unused in a basket near the deep shade of a huge tropical plant.
Today we walk with shoes on, back to her apartment with its big bright windows. We walk back with my youngest daughter and, in the dim elevator, I ask my old friend if she remembers the opening line to Glinda’s song from the Wizard of Oz. I can’t remember the tune.
"I can’t sing." She tells me. But she can sing. I know she can. She can sing every song from the entire movie. She is singing it and dancing in the front yard near the sidewalk while we wait for the ghostly sounds of an ice cream truck to find its way to us.
I extend my hand deep into the quick sands of time and lock my hand around something which has been pulled down deep by the strength of gravity. I will not let go. I will not forget, not ever. So long as I am, I will see to it that our soles burn forever, that we sing, breath easily and run un-shoed for all eternity.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Quiet Moment of Tolerance

The narrow container of the underground rail system was packed with people. Yellow florescent lights bathed the mostly young group of riders in a morgue-like hue. On the right and left sides of the train car there were blue fabric seats in rows, two seats on each side. There was an aisle down the center of the car that permitted free movement from one end to the other, but today the seats were all taken and the aisle was crowded with people clutching onto the seat rails for support against the jerking movement of the electric train. In each car, there were two sets of doors that slid open at each station. The space in front of the doors lacked any seats and there were signs along the walls that set apart this space for bicyclists, people in wheelchairs and women pushing bulky strollers. It was a late Saturday afternoon and the seats were filled with white teenagers. There was a popular street festival happening downtown, and the teens were all dressed up for the giant party.
On the left side of the train, taking up three rows of seats, was a group of six girls. Two of them were wearing pink ballerina tutus that didn’t quite cover their white asses (when I saw them later at the event, the bright white flesh of their legs and buttocks made the thin, transparent fabric of their g-strings almost invisible). I noticed their bare thighs touching the dingy blue fabric of the seats and I shivered involuntarily. The other girls in the group were wearing matching tie dye T-shirts and tight blue jeans. Like hippies from another era, they had tied a thin ribbon around their foreheads. But unlike the old fashioned hippies, their T-shirts looked brand new and their faces looked sparkling clean beneath their carefully applied makeup.
The girls were loud and boisterous, almost screaming with each sentence and laughing often in great bursts of intense mirth. Each one of them used her hands to tell a story and her friends would respond with exaggerated facial gestures, like actors trying to project their emotions across a crowded theater.
Watching them, I wondered if I had ever moved with that much energy, if I had ever talked and laughed with that much intensity. I remembered myself as a serious little girl that grew up to be a serious teenager, finding virtue in a learned fa├žade of maturity and self containment. While I delved into my memories, the girls’ bodies buckled over with the strength of their laughter and the sounds of their loud conversation could be heard throughout the train car. Their speech was dotted with exclamations: "like" and "oh my god" and "you know", little phrases which punctuated their statements, outlining them in clear verbal cadences and reaffirming a shared teenage bond. They spoke with authority, blissfully blind of their apparent naivete and youthful simplicity. A smaller group of boys accompanied them, sitting in the seats that were directly behind them, yet facing in the other direction. Every now and then, a single boy turned around in a brave attempt to join the conversation of the girls, but he was completely ignored, and, unable to find a gap in the girls’ conversation in which to interject a comment or a question, he gave up and turned back around.
In the rows of chairs just to the right of the girls, was an older Muslim woman. She was travelling with her daughter, who looked like a younger smoother copy of the woman. They both had the same pronounced eyes and nose, both had the same brown skin, both had the same look of gentle resignation. They traveled with a man that appeared to be the daughter’s husband and a couple of other people that did not appear to be related. The older woman was sitting on the seat closest to the aisle and the window seat next to her was vacant. Her daughter and son-in-law were sitting in the parallel seats beside her. The son-in-law appeared to be at least fifty and had dark eyes and short black hair. He looked in my direction and saw me looking towards them. He smiled at me with a manly gentleness that might have contained a dash of flirtation. The older woman and daughter never look around the train car. They simply looked at each other, at the son-in-law, or at the floor in front of them.
The older woman was wearing a loose white satin scarf around her head which had a subtle swirl design etched into the fabric. The scarf was long and reached down the front of her gray coat and past her hidden breasts. In the middle of her chest, holding the scarf together, was a circular gold broach, the size of a large sand dollar, with a small purple stone resting in the center. There was no artificial color on the woman’s face, but thin gold rimmed glasses sat upon her nose. She held her large black purse on her lap and her slightly wrinkled brown hands sat upon the purse, one over the other. On her left hand was a gold wedding ring. The woman was deeply calm and serene. Every now and then, she would speak to her daughter and to her son-in-law, and when she did, she made a singular repeating gesture with her hands that seemed to say: "we can’t change anything or anybody, so let’s relax…who knows what is their fate or ours?" It was a gesture of knowing compassion, a gesture of sharply etched and painfully earned humility and peace. Mostly, she remained silent and she rested her eyes on her hands and the floor and she kept her lips upturned in the faintest hint of a smile.
Without truly knowing her, I felt that this woman had learned to accept that she now lived in a different place, a different culture where girls ran around with their legs and ass showing and where they talked in loud voices instead of looking down at the floor in obedience and submission. She had learned to take this in and not react to it. Her faith had matured within her and she was no longer offended by the world. The world would keep on changing and she would keep on believing, she would keep on remaining calm and she would keep on waiting. The extent of her influence was clear and well defined. Anything that stood outside of it was to be accepted or ignored. To the young girls in tutus and tight jeans, she was invisible. To her, they were lost ghosts. In a tenuous fabric of tolerance, both of their worlds could momentarily coexist in this train car as it speeded in a blur of harsh mechanical sound and power on its way towards the city. In this moment, there was the understanding of silence, the understanding of staying in your seat when you are travelling, of standing when the doors open, of leaving when it’s time to leave. The older Muslim woman would not disturb the young girls and the girls would not disturb her. And I would look upon them both and see myself in all of it. I was the young girl looking for admiration. I was also the old woman diving deeply into myself in a search for knowledge and peace. I was invisible and I was also a ghost and I was something else, something that I couldn’t quite define just yet, something just beyond the reach of my understanding.
Directly in front of me were two Latina women. They both looked like they were under twenty. One was in charge of holding onto the handles of a pink baby stroller. It was a very simple plastic device, a straightforward piece of machinery that had one function and fulfilled it reasonably well. It had plastic white wheels, plastic white handles and frame, and a pink fabric covered in images of a small white teddy bear and some yellow flowers. The fabric covered the canopy of the stroller and also covered the seat for the small baby inside. The little baby girl was wearing a pink terry cloth outfit and she had a small gold bracelet around her tiny brown wrist. Her face and torso were covered from view by the stroller’s canopy, but her legs kicked out often and her tiny right hand repeatedly clenched into a tiny weak fist. I imagined myself in the stroller, awash in filtered pink light as the fabric in front of me disguised the various sources of sound, turning them all into a single rumble coming from a world yet to be discovered. To the little baby inside the stroller, all the people were invisible, all of them were ghosts, all of them were equally incomprehensible, equally strange, equally acceptable, equally easy to fear or love. The world was a spiraling haze of potential discovery and all beings held an unrealized promise in their simple presence. I looked at the girls dressed up as hippies and I looked at the older woman dressed up as a Muslim and I looked at the little stroller once again. I saw the little legs kick in spontaneous joy, and my eyes filled with tears.

The wise Muslim woman who remained calm
and unfazed by a strange modern world
of young girls with strong gazes,
short skirts, tight pants
and loud voices of daring and pride.

The little baby girl that responded
with little kicks of pleasure
as the promised world appeared around her
in loud bursts of grinding metal
and clouds of boisterous laughter.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Bucket of Grapes

The grass was smooth and short and moist. It covered a rectangular space about forty feet long by thirty feet wide. On its southern edge was the road that came up towards the lake from one of the main roads of the large city park. On its northern edge, it bordered with the concrete walking path that surrounded the lake in all directions. There were several tall thick trees that loomed over the grassy open area, their branches and leaves partially covering it in shadow. A light breeze blew gently through the bushes and the trees, making the leaves tremble and sometimes fall, like little flat colorful dancers making their final appearance before an empty house. On the western edge there was a path that lead up to the lake, connecting the road to the concrete path. Every few minutes, some people walked up that little path and a few others walked down, subtly interrupting the stillness of the little meadow with bits of conversation and the rhythmic sound of heels upon concrete. Cars drove up from the main road every so often, sliding up the curving street with ease and disappearing once again around the bend, on their way to the little parking lot behind the big wooden building or to the northern side of the park. Except for those slight interruptions, the grassy slanted meadow was quiet and peaceful and self contained, like a little rectangular room with grass for a carpet and trees and brush for walls. Close to the trees, on the northern side, a couple frolicked together, laying on the grass, pressing against each other, kissing and touching and giggling lightly as their bodies shivered with delight. Their little giggles mixed in with the soft calls of the birds to form a single gentle chaos that emphasized the delicate silence, outlining the emptiness with a kind of music, giving it an edge of crystalline beauty and sweaty lusty song.
Towards the south side, close to the center, a woman was sitting and, just a few feet away, a girl was sitting next to her. The woman was dressed all in black, a short black skirt and a shoulderless black top. Her hair was also black, long and smooth, falling all the way to her higher back, past the nape of her neck. Her skin was a light chocolate color, her eyes were slim and focused, her nose was small and pointed, her smile was wide and tight, as if it was being held back from making a full appearance. Her legs were crossed and she sat on the wet grass, her naked dark thighs pressing down on the wet long leaves which left tiny lines of green on her smooth skin. There was a blue bucket full of grapes close to her right hand and she reached every so often to grab one of the grapes and drop it into her mouth. As she chewed on the little spheres of sweetness, she smiled some more, in the tight way that she did, and she talked to the young girl that sat beside her.
The girl was about sixteen or seventeen. She also wore black, a sleeveless simple black top and a short black skirt. Her skin was white and it was shining like a pink mirror under the rays of sunlight that hit directly on the unprotected spot where she sat. The girl had long blonde hair, which was tied in a single long braid that fell down her back. Her face still had traces of the little girl that might have once ran around the lake, squealing and jumping, hoping to catch a duck or a pigeon in her hands. Her cheeks were round and smooth, her eyes were blue and soft, her smile was broad and simple, holding a light of truthful innocence that was missing in the woman. The girl also leaned over, every so often, to grab a single grape and drop it into her mouth. When she chewed, she remained silent and listened carefully to what the older woman was saying. She nodded and smiled at the appropriate moments, trying with difficulty to not be distracted by the lustful couple that was lying on the grass just a few feet away. Her eyes would wander over to them for rapid moments of indulgence, just enough to take in what was happening, what were they doing, what were they about to do. Then the girl would bring her eyes back to the woman, who never looked away.
"It takes time to understand these things… there is no simple, easy solution…", the woman spoke through the remains of a single grape that still rolled around in her mouth. The girl nodded, taking in the woman’s words and presence through her wide open eyes. "There is a real difference between theory and practice… I cannot emphasize that enough."
The woman looked at the girl, trying to gauge whether her words were making their way into her, whether something was leaving a mark. She then reached over into the bucket, took out another grape and plopped it into her mouth. She extended her lower lip, caught the little purple sphere easily between her teeth and smiled at her skill. Then she started to chew again and she turned to the girl to speak: "Do you understand what I am saying? It is not enough to just hear about these things…"
The girl nodded, swallowed the last bit of her grape and then smiled broadly: "Yes, I believe I do… I am very eager to learn."
The woman bent her right knee towards her and nodded with exaggerated motions. "That’s what I’m saying. I know you are… I have no question about it…All I’m saying is that you will need a lot of practice…Practice, real world practice, is crucial…"
She chewed through her grape and let her eyes wander over the smooth young face of the girl. It was clear to the dark skinned woman that there was so much work to do and there was only so much that she could say to help her. It was also clear that the young girl was there to learn and that it was her place to make sure that she did.
"I will find others to work with you…there are always plenty of students ready to find a new project… it won’t be difficult. I will find people that are better than you so that you can learn from them. That way you will be forced to make an extra effort, an effort you might not have made otherwise."
She reached once again into the bucket and grabbed a new grape, very dark, very purple and very round. The woman was feeling very playful and happy just then so she threw it up into the air in front of herself and she leaned over to once again catch it in her open mouth. The young girl laughed at the woman’s playfulness.
As the woman ripped apart the perfect purple grape with her teeth, she said: "I have been coming here, to this very spot, for many years. I like to sit here, eating grapes. I used to sit here without doing anything, but I would get too restless. I then tried to read, but I would get too distracted. I tried to sleep but then I felt like I was missing the experience. So I got the grapes… and once I got the grapes, I could sit here for hours, just chewing and eating and chewing and eating…like the cows." Then she burst out laughing and a tiny bit of grape flew out of her mouth and fell on the moist grass. The young girl laughed as well, and she imagined them both as cows on a wide open range, chewing on grass for days on end. They both kept on laughing for a bit and then the woman leaned over and slapped the girl’s naked knee.
"Don’t worry… we’ll make something out of you yet… a real something."
Right then the girl’s eyes were wide open and shining and the woman’s words were like little purple spheres of sweetness that, for a moment, covered up the dryness of a cold world of empty silence. The breeze made the woman’s black hair fly up slightly and the young girl could only wonder at her beauty and her wisdom and her kindness. Then the woman reached into the bucket to grab another grape and she offered it to the young girl, with her careful smile drawn tightly across her face. The young girl nodded and took it and dropped it into her own mouth. She started chewing once again while a car passed by behind them and the couple giggled once again by the tall old trees that surrounded the green lake. The girl’s wide eyes were still on the woman and the woman’s eyes were still on her, and the breeze felt like a shower of kisses on the soft pink valleys of her naked skin.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Couple On The Edge

The woman looked into the man’s eyes, feeling the desire in them, the need in them, their vibrant burning state of unsatisfied possibility. She was on her knees on the wet grass, just a few feet away from the concrete path that made its way around the lake. Her body was bent forward, so that her breasts and her shoulders were only inches from the man’s chest. She wore a loose beige sleeveless top, tied together with slim brown cords that left most of her belly exposed, along with her shoulders and her arms. Her pants were a light maroon with black adornments, slim cords and ruffles. They were very tight and they had open circular holes where the flesh of her tanned legs was exposed and outlined to create a clear contrast to the maroon fabric. As she leaned forward, the pants were pulled back, exposing the full round mounds of her wide buttocks, left completely uncovered by a thin white thong that ran up from the edge of the pants to the bony edge of her spine. Her hair was curly and wild, and it fell in great waves of blackness over her face and onto the man’s shoulders and head. She wore no shoes and the soles of her feet were very white and they reflected the light of the sun like tiny mirrors of pink flesh.
The man was laying on his side, his legs together and pulled up. He was wearing long light brown shorts that extended down to his knees butt left his hairy lower legs exposed. His shirt was tie dyed and it hung loose around his arms, pulled up and leaving his hairy belly out in the open. He had a short trimmed beard and long dirty blonde hair, tied in a loose pony tail. His face was turned upwards towards the woman, protected from the sun by her intimate shadow. His knees were bent and oscillated back and forth on the wet surface of grass and soil.
Just above them, on the concrete path and on the muddy shore of the lake, a group of little girls was having a party and the couple could hear the high squeals of celebration and the urgent requests for cake and more cake. Cars passed by every so often, moving slowly around the curve that led to the little parking lot behind the wooden building at the edge of the water, where the boats were rented and people ate candy and ice cream. There were several tall trees that towered over the couple like giant guardians that looked down upon them in quiet and solemn approval. The breeze passed through the branches, making them tremble, and dry leaves fell in graceful dances of death every few minutes, choosing this gentle afternoon to end their quiet lives. The branches of the tall trees were not long enough to create a full shadow over the couple, so the sunlight from the south fell on them directly like a ray of liquid light that covered them in a thin layer of shiny sweat.
Their faces were close together and their eyes were glued upon each other, forming an invisible sphere of stillness and silence that simply willed away all extraneous sounds and movement, leaving them pressed together in a warm loose embrace of sunlight, open, vulnerable, sweaty and alone. The woman’s lips came down to his and there they stayed for a moment. The man reached up and pressed his mouth onto hers. She responded by opening her mouth a bit further, kissing him with a lightness that could barely hide the intensity that roamed through her skin like tiny flares exploding on the hot surface of her solar body. Her body moved forward and she pressed into him more tightly, her breasts lightly touching his arm.
Then she pulled back her mouth and he smiled slightly and she smiled as well, in a subtle message of understanding and common aim. She moved sideways along his face and kissed his cheek and the edge of his ear. The man sighed with pleasure and his right arm reached up to caress her naked shoulder. She extended her tongue and drew a narrow line of saliva from his ear to the edge of his mouth. Then she kissed his lips again and he responded by raising his body from the grass and curling his fingers tightly around her shoulder. She licked at his lower lip and let the tip of her tongue travel down to his chin where she drew little circles at the edge of his beard. He pulled himself up slightly and ran his left hand over her lower back, feeling the protruding vertebrae as they traveled down to the edge of her slim underwear. Her tongue made its way back to his mouth and there it met his tongue, and they licked each other in slim caresses of saliva, flesh and hunger.
She pulled up and away once again, her eyes like narrow slits as she looked down at his chest and his exposed belly. She slid down the grass and licked at the hairy flesh around his belly button. His stomach responded by shaking with soft laughter and his left hand traveled to the back of her neck, feeling the soft skin under the back of her head. His hand then traveled into the wildness of her curly hair, trailing the edges of soft blackness between his extended fingers. Her breasts were now pressed against his thigh and her tongue was drawing wider circles around his belly button, reaching down to the edge of his pants. Her hands caressed at the sides of his torso and he turned onto his back, his knees raised and slightly apart. She pulled up her body over him and kissed his upper abdomen, pulling up his shirt to feel his naked skin against her lips, and he responded by lifting his lower body towards her, pressing his growing erection against the side of her chest. She looked up at him and smiled full of lust and pleasure and he responded with a full smile of his own. She pulled her whole body over his and came to rest on top of him, straddling his stomach with her crotch, pressing her breasts against his chest and leaning over his face, to lick once again at his lips. He draped his arms around her and pulled her tight into him, as if he could swallow her whole body into his. She offered no resistance and their tongues intertwined once again in the shared space between their lips and in the strange wet open wound of their hungry mouths. She slid down his body softly, feeling his erection pressing up against her crotch, sliding back and forth over it, ever so slowly, ever so subtly. He pulled on her again and their faces were like one as they both closed their eyes, swimming in a vastness of clouds of color against oceans of black.
She slid off to the side and once again she was on her knees, pressing up against his side, kissing his cheek and licking at his right ear. She could taste the salty texture of his sweat like a gift of vulnerable softness that escaped from his rough male skin. She relished it and licked further up to his temple and up to his forehead while his hands caressed the softness of her tanned brown shoulders and her smooth moist neck. She slid down and wiggled her whole body against his and he laughed and held her face between his hands and kissed her fully on the lips again and she kissed him back, both of them laughing as their tongues made circles around each other.
The lake was only a few feet away and their hot skin yearned for the cool touch of soothing water and caressing waves. Their van was a few feet away in the other direction and their hot skin yearned for the welcoming embrace of its darkness and the sealed finality of its locked doors and walls. But they were now a couple on the edge, on the edge of release, on the edge of madness, on the edge of a cliff that fell onto the dark shadows of sleep, of sensibility and carefulness, of thoughts of other people and their possible reactions, of the past and the future, of consequences and causes, of reasons, of faults and of blame.
Here on the edge there was no such thing. They floated gently together on a bubble of potential and every move they made lifted them higher onto clouds of possibility. Flying together as they were, there was no need for finality, there was no need for release. The cooling kisses of the water could wait, the closed doors and darkness could wait. Here on the edge was the dance that had no purpose, the song that had no cadence, the poem that held no hidden meaning, the kiss that had no end. Their bodies would shift and slide and vibrate and sigh on the edge for as long as they could manage, maybe another minute, maybe ten, maybe even an hour. Eventually their bodies would surrender and they would stumble over the edge like dry leaves falling to their death on a warm afternoon. But for now, they would fly together, a kiss here, a touch there, a gentle drawing of circles with the salty substance of life over eager pink skin. For now, they would dance on the edge, just a little longer.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Bridge of Stone

The man came up from the south, walking slowly up the stained stone stairways that cut the great park in two. He came up through the thick old trees that rustled with the faint breeze of the sunny afternoon. He came up in the silence that is the exclusive realm of birds and leaves and dirt. He came up looking ahead towards the last few steps and the open doorway of curved trees, but his mind was firmly placed in the murky past that embraced him like a hot invisible coat. He came up with eyes covered by glasses, with his body covered by a gray jacket and dark pants, with his heart covered by the ice that had built up over so many years of being left without shelter. He came up and he stepped onto the cement path, the one that made its way all around the lake that rested like a giant living mirror at the top of the hill. There he rested for a moment. The man came up and he had no purpose or reason, and now he stood helpless, not knowing where to go or what to do. The man looked back towards the stone steps which were still quiet, lonely and silent. Then he looked to the cement path which was littered here and there with people walking back and forth. Then he looked to the lake where little pedal boats and row boats crisscrossed the calm green water. Then he looked to the mountain in the center, where the brown soil formed the background for a web of branches and leaves. The man then turned to the right and started to walk.
A man came by running, wearing bright red shorts, a sweaty T-shirt and thin white wires hanging from his ears. The whisper of loud music surrounded him like a swarm of sleepy buzzing bees. The man that walked saw the man running and stepped aside. The man faintly nodded in greeting but the running man was too lost in his music of bees and screeches to notice a greeting of such subtlety.
The man that walked continued to walk and looked at a great big stone on the side of the path where a couple had etched their names around a rough skinny heart. He wondered how long ago they had been here. He wondered if they were still together, if the heart that had been carved here still was burning bright in between them and if they could still watch the sunset blazing in each other’s eyes. He knew he couldn’t. It had been a long time since he could. But maybe the couple that etched their name here still strolled through this path today, this very afternoon, or maybe the man, even now, rowed a wooden boat slowly, while his beloved leaned back on the curved wooden surface, looking up at the empty sky.
The man kept on walking, while a little boy ran past him. The little boy’s mouth was wide open and his eyes were pressed tightly in a sign of intense pleasure. A tall muscular blond man walked behind him, cautioning him to stay close. The man that walked once again nodded in greeting but the blond man didn’t see him, or pretended not to see him. Then a flock of pigeons rose up to the sky from the bush to the man’s left and the boy ran towards them and a shadow fell upon the blond man’s face and then he called for the boy to be careful once again and the man that walked just kept on walking.
He heard the clicking of heels on the cement behind him. The clicks were quick and frequent and soon a woman in a flowery brown dress walked past him, holding a large square cardboard box. The box was pink and slightly stained and the woman held it up with great care. In the distance ahead, the man could see a group of little girls that screamed and ran on the path and along its edge. The woman with the box moved quickly towards them and they descended on her like pigeons flying to a mountain of seed. The man made his way around them carefully, and he saw the woman open the box to reveal the cake inside and the little girls squealed with pleasure and anticipation. Behind the trees, away from the lake, there was a woman kissing a man, both lying down, the woman pressing her body against his in a show of intense lust, both oblivious to the girly squeals and the laughter just above them.
The man reached the edge of the stone bridge and stopped. Beyond the bridge was the mountain, with its intertwining paths and its shadow world of unknowns and sudden surprises. Beyond the bridge was the pagoda and the dirt path and the commitment of journeys that may be much longer than one can initially anticipate. Behind the bridge stood a woman he hadn’t seen in years and he was with her and their hands were together and they walked as if the whole world belonged to them and every bright flower that fell was a gift from the goddess mother of the world, just for them and for them alone, and the air itself was shining and trembling, sharing in the delight that they felt in simply walking together. Behind the bridge was the realization that the woman was no longer there, that his hand was only in his pocket and that the world was no longer his and the air was no longer shining. Behind the bridge was horror and despair. The man turned away from the bridge and kept on walking.
He came to where a woman was sitting alone on the bench, looking at her watch and reading a piece of paper. The woman seemed impatient and she looked at him with eyes that fused hope with sadness, anger with desire. He nodded to her as he nodded to everyone but his nod was so subtle, so tentative, so shy, that the woman couldn’t see it and instead she looked at the man that walked behind him and then at the one that might come even further back. The man walked by her and saw the boats passing nearby, a pair of men in long shorts laughing loudly, a pair of thick women staring away in silence, a small blonde family in a large boat that rocked with their screams and jokes and eagerness. The man passed by a strong black woman leaning on a bench who talked in random spurts to a man in a wheelchair, across the path from her. The man who walked passed in between them and the woman nodded at him and he nodded back, wishing he could say something but unable to find the words.
The man saw a little old lady, bent over and drenched in sweat, offering mountains of seed to the birds of the lake and he saw the birds come in great flocks of unified hunger and descend upon the seed like flying ants on a bowl of soft honey. There were two women taking pictures of the feast, and they were happily commenting on what the old woman was doing. Two older women walked by and loudly expressed their disapproval, shaking their heads and talking of rats with wings and people who couldn’t obey simple instructions. An old skinny man sat on a green bench reading a book, his shirt was off and his ribs were pressing out against his skin. There was another man on the same bench, a homeless man with dark skin and ripped jeans and no shoes. The homeless man simply looked at the man that walked with great big round eyes full of empty curiosity. The man that walked passed by the bench and, as he passed, he felt the man’s eyes on him, like tickling rays of electrical need reaching across a gulf of unknowable emptiness. He came to where the boats were tethered and he saw a single lonely row boat waiting for a couple to make it complete. He saw its faded paint and its curved underbelly and the signs of small graffiti that had been left as reminders of other gentle afternoons and he saw it rocking back and forth with the touch of the gentle waves that made their way across the lake. The man looked with soft eyes of sadness and then the man kept on walking.
The man that walked came once again to the choice that was engraved in the bridge of stone. It was a different bridge but it was the same one, and the woman still stood on the other side, looking at him with eyes of lost stormy evenings and dark clouds lined with lightning. She was wearing her pink dress as always, her hair flowed around her shoulders, as always, her hands were on her hips as always. She was as she always was, except that she wasn’t there at all, and so she wasn’t like she was at all. A little white dog rummaged through the leaves on the side of the bridge and then made its way across. The man saw his little white body bobbing back and forth as it crossed the arched surface of stone. He felt within him for a sign of courage, a sign that now things may be different, a sign that he could face and resist the shadows that were lined up against him on the other side, a sign that now he could be like a white dog and find some simple satisfaction in dead leaves and empty holes on the ground. Finding nothing, no sign, no response, the man that walked just kept on walking.
After many times around, after finding the same people once, twice and many times over again, after seeing that the cake had been eaten away and the box had been discarded, after seeing the couple kiss and touch and kiss and touch again, after seeing the waiting woman walk away and the man in the wheelchair pushed away by the strong black woman and after the air started to turn cold, after the bridge had appeared and disappeared so many times that he had lost count and every time the woman on the other side waited calmly, knowing that nothing would ever change and she could wait forever, after all that, the man came back to the stone steps that descended to the south and away from the lake. He looked around and found that he had no purpose or reason, that he stood helpless and alone, not knowing where to go or what to do. Then the man started to walk down the stained stone steps, away from the bridge of stone that lead to darkness and back to a simple loneliness that could be covered in a blanket of forgetfulness and quiet noise. The bridge of stone would still be there tomorrow.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Goddess of The Birds

The old woman leaned forward as far as she could, wincing in pain with the strain that the effort was putting on her back. She lifted the large heavy bag full of seeds and she placed it on the silver metal cart. She took in a deep breath, grunting slightly, and then she took a second breath. She leaned over again and grabbed the second bag and placed it on top of the first one. There were little beads of sweat forming on her forehead, like tiny transparent pearls freely arranged over a pink desert of ancient skin. The woman took another deep breath and then another. She then leaned forward for a third time and pulled up the third bag and placed it on top of the other two. All three bags were now secure inside the metal cart. She took a couple of steps backward, stumbling slightly, and she sat down on the steps that came down to the garage. She was breathing heavily. She sat there quietly, breathing and sweating, for several minutes. The little pearls of sweat had turned to transparent rivers that now made trails through the cracked landscape of her forehead. She took out a handkerchief and wiped all the sweat away. She stood up carefully once again and pressed a button on the side of the wall to make the garage door open. She bent over to grab hold of the cart and she started to push it forward. She walked out onto the sidewalk, then she took out her remote control and pressed the button that made the door come back down, and then she turned towards the east, letting her eyes wander over the distant buildings and the few stray clouds. She stayed there, in front of the closed garage door, for a few more minutes, as if contemplating her next steps carefully. Then she slowly started to move up the wide cement sidewalk.
It was a clear and sunny afternoon. The wind was soft and gentle, making the trees sway slightly as if dancing to slow music. Cars passed by every so often and there were people walking here and there but the street was mostly silent. The woman pushed the cart slowly, resting every few minutes and looking up at the bright blue sky. She smiled and her eyes shone with recognition every time she saw the blue vastness that reigned above her. Then it was time to move the cart again. When she came to the first intersection, she slid the cart down to the street, walked a few steps and looked in all directions. There were no cars coming but she still took a little bit of time to breathe, making sure that she would not run out of energy in the middle of the street. When she felt sufficiently strong, she started to push the cart again. She moved very slowly from one corner to the other, still looking in all directions. The next block had even more trees, thick with dark leaves and solid branches, and the woman welcomed the shade. She was wearing a large, thick beige coat and a blue handkerchief around her head. Her hair was bright white and her skin was a mixture of pink and pasty white. Her eyes drooped slightly to the side and her mouth moved slightly from side to side as she walked, as if it followed its own mysterious wishes.
The old woman crossed another intersection slowly and then a third, before arriving at the place where she had to turn towards the park. She followed the same procedure as before, but there was more traffic here. As she reached the middle of the street, a red convertible came fast towards her, braking at the very last possible moment, just a few feet away from her little black shoes. The man inside the car ran his hand over his clean shaven head in a gesture of impatience. The woman tried to move a little faster. The man turned the wheel and drove around her. The woman simply shook her head and kept on pushing on the silver cart. Again she moved slowly down a long sidewalk. She could see the tall trees of the park in the distance and the gray cement archway that marked her destination. She kept on pushing slowly, resting more often now, feeling the sweat dripping down her face and starting to sting her eyes. When she reached the main street in front of the park, there were several cars stopped at the light. She waited for the next one, hoping there would be fewer cars by then. By the time the next red light came around, there were even more cars waiting, but she decided to move anyway. She slid down onto the street and slowly moved in front of the waiting cars. Without looking, she could sense that the light about to change. She pushed as hard as she could but it was too late. Some cars were honking in the back and the motors were rumbling. She didn’t turn to look, she simply kept on moving. As she made it to the edge of the sidewalk, the cars zoomed by in desperation. She pushed the cart up and crossed the archway, her bent back straining with the great effort of every little step.
The trees and bushes in the park were looking specially bright green, and they outlined the clear sky with their greenness. There were a few men and women in roller-skates and music was coming from a small black boombox on the side of the road. The old woman smiled and a young woman smiled back at her, as she danced to the muffled beat coming from the small speakers. The old woman reached the corner and spotted a green bench. She pulled the cart over and slowly bent her body down to sit. Cars were passing by in here as well, and people in bicycles and joggers with little white wires coming out of their ears and couples walking hand in hand and a few kids running back and forth and ahead of their nervous parents. The woman breathed slowly and deliberately. She closed her eyes for a moment and the cars became suns that traveled through great nebulae of purple and green and the people were like great birds that traveled across the empty wastelands of space, where their voices had lost their meaning and had turned into complex songs of silver light and solid cold stone. She opened her eyes again and there were more joggers running by her and an old man wearing a gray beret. The old woman sighed and pushed herself up once again.
She pushed the cart down the angled sidewalk, letting her eyes wander over the curved tree branches, the bench where a family was laughing and having a picnic, the statue where an old homeless man was asleep, his sunburnt face helpless against the sun. She reached the final intersection where the street was very wide and it was impossible to know when cars were coming. She slid the cart onto the street once again and she made her way over to the other side, as quickly as she could. A couple of cars had to wait for her but there was no honking and that allowed the old woman to breathe easier. She reached the corner and she started to push her cart up the curved slope that led to the lake. Here there was no sidewalk and she simply had to trust that the cars coming behind her would spot her in time and slowly move around her. The woman moved even more slowly here because of the slope and because she was now feeling very tired. The sweat was stinging her eyes fiercely now and she didn’t want to stop to wipe it all away. Slowly, ever so slowly, she made it to the little parking lot and the wooden building where people rented the boats. She turned towards the left and pushed the cart up onto the cement path that surrounded the lake. There she rested, standing up, supporting her weight on the handles of the cart. She brought out her handkerchief and wiped the sweat away from her face. The water was calm, shiny and smooth. There were several couples out on the boats and many people walking up and down the path. A man in a light brown jacket walked by her and nodded in greeting. She raised her trembling hand and waved back. She smiled and started to move once again.
She reached a long stretch of grass that ran parallel to the edge of the lake. A trio of ducks was swimming just a couple of feet away from the muddy shore. There were tall light green leaves that sprouted straight out of the water. A little white dog passed by her, exploring the path and the grass with its tiny nose. The old woman took a very deep breath and then another. She looked all around her and nodded, satisfied and ready. The woman then reached inside the cart and pulled out the first heavy bag. She ripped up the top with her little wrinkled hands and she walked with the open bag towards the grass. There, she slowly flipped the bag over, walking on the edge of the path as the seeds started to fall from the gaping hole. A great cloud of dust was formed as the seeds poured onto the grass like brown and yellow rain. Immediately, the birds started to come: great flocks of pigeons and large seagulls, gray and white. They came in waves upon waves filled with enthusiasm and they collided with each other in great masses, forming a complex moving carpet of constant feathery excitement and eager hunger and need. The woman let the seeds rain down slowly, walking from one edge of the grassy section to the other, making sure the food was spread as evenly as possibly, in a long dusty offering of yellow and brown and black. As soon as one bag was finished, she came back to the cart and opened the second. The birds were now three layers thick and the sound they made was like a great orchestra of madness led by a crazed invisible conductor bathed in the waters of desire. The birds jumped deep into the mountains of seed, without fear or hesitation, grabbed some on their beaks, jumped back, swallowed, then jumped in again, ready for more. And even as the second bag was already empty, there were more flocks of pigeons coming over the green calm surface of the lake, called over by silent, invisible beacons. The woman opened the third and final bag and repeated her calm and methodical procedure. More seagulls came and more pigeons came, and even some other wild birds that were hungry enough to dive into the loud and fierce chaos that surrounded the mountains of seed.
The old woman stood back and watched the eager birds with a great smile. She nodded her head and looked up at the sky, then at the mountain, then at the lake and once again at the birds. For a moment her skin was not as cracked, her face was not as pasty, her hair was not as white. For a moment, the intense hunger for life that sang voraciously in a thousand voices flowed straight into her old weak body and, in the great open mirror that was the shining lake, she could see that she had returned safely from the deep pits of darkness once again. She laughed softly to herself, a little laugh of simple triumph and victory, and then she turned back towards the cart. It was getting late and she had a long walk home.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Pagoda

The boy walked down the dirt path with his eyes tilted down towards the dark brown soil. His older male cousin walked beside him on the left side and his older female cousin walked beside him on his right. They walked on a path that surrounded a small mountain which sat in the middle of a small lake. It was a sunny afternoon caressed by the gentle loving touch of a soft breeze and the sound of pigeons flying in great flocks of sudden enthusiasm. The water of the lake was calm and shiny like a giant green mirror that softly vibrated and subtly shifted with the sound of footsteps and lost words and sighs.
The boy was ten years old. He was very skinny and somewhat frail. His skin was white and soft and his eyes seemed bigger than they really were behind a pair of thick eyeglasses. He wore a short sleeved yellow shirt and blue jeans and dirty white sneakers. The older male cousin was fourteen. His skin was much darker and he was more than a foot taller. His arms were thicker and stronger than the boy’s and his black eyes were steady and somehow dismissive. He wore a white T-shirt and blue jeans. The older female cousin was thirteen. She had light brown hair and very white skin. Her body was as skinny as the boy’s but it seemed somewhat stronger. Her light brown eyes flew in all directions, never resting on any one place for too long. She wore a flowery long sleeved shirt and soft cotton white pants.
As they walked, they pointed out the sights to each other and commented on their significance like explorers on a long trip into undiscovered continents. The boy talked most of all, with a voice that grew louder and surer with each step, as if his knowledge grew stronger as they made their way around the mountain.
The trio came to where a pagoda stood on the edge of the water. It was an open circular structure with a dirty white floor, about fifteen feet in diameter. The railing was white and showed the marks of many visitors in scratches and symbols and promises of love. The pillars were thick and dark red and the roof was light green and pointed in its pyramidal way towards the sky. At the very peak there was a green ball, and, even from where the boy was standing, he could see that the paint on the ball was very faded and showed the gray that was underneath. The three of them stood at the edge of the white railing looking in, a few steps away from the entrance.
"It’s a pagoda… a place of ancient Chinese kings…a place of martial arts and great loyalty and… and wonderful achievements!" the boy said it loudly and proudly, hoping to impress both his cousins, specially the female cousin who had shiny little golden hairs on the side of her neck.
"Why would they have that here?" the girl asked and the boy felt a pang of fear, realizing that he had no answer.
"Probably… somebody… someone came here a long time ago… maybe they wanted a place to look over their kingdom… maybe they needed a place to practice their ancient arts…"
The girl looked at the older cousin with a slight smile on her face and the older boy responded with a similar gesture. Then he turned to the boy and said: "You should go inside… maybe then it will become clearer what it’s for."
The boy hesitated for a brief moment. It was only a little pagoda on the side of a lake. Little boats passed by, just beyond the railing, slowly sliding along the surface of the water. Another flock of pigeons rose from the opposite edge of the lake and flew up directly towards the peak of the mountain. A car honked in the distance. The boy stepped inside. The floor was dusty and marked and cracked and dirty. Leaves were strewn all over it and there was a faint smell of urine in the air. He walked all the way to the edge of the railing and looked out onto the water. A little boy cried out in the distance, as yet another flock of pigeons rose up towards the sky.
From the path, the older cousin called out to him: "Do you want to know what this place is really for?"
The boy turned around to look at his cousin with a sense of apprehension. Both cousins were looking at him now and smiling knowingly, as if they were in on a secret that the boy couldn’t even begin to unravel.
"I told you about the Chinese Kings and…"
"Sure," the older cousin said," but do you want to know what it’s really for?"
The boy hesitated, feeling the breeze against his cheeks and his naked arms.
"Sure, tell me what you think it’s for…"
"It’s not what I think… it’s what I know. And I know because I’ve seen it!", the older cousin said and the girl giggled with his words.
"Then tell me… what is it? What is it for?"
"Men and women come here… they hug tight against the railing… leaning over the water… and they kiss, very hard and for a very long time. And as they kiss they keep on hugging, tighter and tighter… and they stay like that for a long time!" the older cousin said it without shame and laughed loudly after he was finished, but the girl blushed a little even as she also laughed.
The young boy, who was leaning back against the rail, the same rail where maybe men and women kissed, was then filled with a sense of shame and longing. He heard the words and was embarrassed by the laughter that followed so he had to look away from his two cousins. He looked up towards the slanted roof and then around towards the railing as it extended away from him and he imagined a couple kissing there, their lips pressed tightly against each other, their arms pulling the other’s body onto themselves. He imagined himself as a man, pushing a woman against the railing, doing it so hard that she almost fell over into the water. Then he imagined himself kissing her deeply, and he could only faintly imagine what the lips would feel like against his own and what she would do as he pressed himself against her and what they would both do once they were so close that they couldn’t get any closer and how would they know when it was time to stop. His eyes almost closed when he tried to imagine his hand against her shoulder, running down her arm, feeling her skin and her warmth and her aliveness.
"What is he doing?" the girl asked the older cousin.
"I think he’s dreaming… he wants to be kissing in there… he wants to have a girl to kiss!"
And they both laughed once again. Then the boy opened his eyes and he was blushing so hard that it almost hurt and he almost ran out of the little pagoda. But as he stepped across the entrance his right foot stumbled on a crack between the wood and the dirt and he almost fell over. He managed to balance himself without falling all the way to the ground, but his knees buckled and the two cousins laughed harder than ever.
"He wants a girl to kiss! He wants a girl to kiss!"
He looked up at them and specially at his girl cousin whose hair was shining with the sunlight streaming through the trees and he was left without an answer, helpless, embarrassed, blushing and alone.
Then the girl said: "It looked like the pagoda didn’t want to let you go!"
He nodded and nodded at her, desperately trying to reclaim a sense of honor. "Yes, it did feel that way. Maybe it’s haunted…"
The male cousin let out a sigh of disgust. Then he picked up a very small stone and threw it ahead of them down the path. "Sure… haunted…"
"Well, you never know… it really didn’t want to let me go."
The girl looked back at the pagoda as they walked away and then looked towards the lake and the boats that were slowly passing by, only a few feet away. The boy looked back as well, and he thought that maybe it was him. Maybe he didn’t want to leave the pagoda. Maybe someday he would come back and then the haunted pagoda would be waiting for him, fresh and clean and empty, as if he had never left. Maybe then there would be no laughter. Maybe then he would not be in the pagoda alone. Maybe then he would be haunted too, as haunted as this strange little place on the side of a mountain. He turned back towards the path and his cousins were already a few feet ahead of him. He then rushed a little to catch up. A car honked in the distance. A man laughed in a rough hoarse voice. A few dead brown leaves slowly danced in midair as they fell onto the gentle surface of the water.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Woman And Her Man

The woman leaned back on the green bench, stretching her thick muscular body as far as possible, her legs parallel to the ground. She pressed her cheek on her hand and she looked out towards the lake and the tall dark trees and the gray and white pigeons that flew in dark masses of feathery movement above the calm surface of the water. The man sat in his silvery wheelchair right in front of her. His foot was stretched out tightly, perpendicular to his body and enmeshed in metal bars and thick cloth bandages. He wore a thick blue jacket and dark green pants, a blue cap with an eagle on its front and dark glasses which now rested on the edge of his nose. The woman also wore dark glasses, along with light brown pants and a black T-shirt. She had a beige sweater wrapped around her waist. Both the woman and the man had very dark skin and they were both in their thirties but the man was a bit older. His scraggly beard already showed signs of white and his hand and head movements were somewhat erratic. In contrast, the woman hardly moved at all. Her breath was slow and gentle, and when she did move, it was with a deliberate slowness that seemed as steady as the passage of time. Her eyes moved ever so slowly from the lake, to the man, back to the lake, then to the man, to the road, to the people that walked on the path beside them, to the man and then to the lake once again.
"That’s what they said, anyway… but you never know… you never really know…", the man spoke in a harsh dry voice and his hands flew up and apart to emphasize his words. The wheelchair moved slightly forward, towards the concrete path that separated him from the woman, the path that made its way all around the lake. Two older women walked by, wearing light colored pants and large straw hats. As they passed by, the man had moved so close to the path that their knees were just inches from his frozen leg. He looked up at them with eyes full of questions but they just looked straight ahead, purposefully trying to ignore his silent call. "You never really can know…"
"It’s always worth trying… you can never give up… you have to try everything…", the woman stretched out on the bench spoke with a soft voice that seemed out of place in her strong muscular body. Over her dark glasses, her eyebrows came together in a silent expression of tenderness. She saw the two women pass by but her eyes came back to rest on the man, intent on letting him know that she would always look right at him, that she would never look away.
"I’m just tired of hoping… it’s been years now… I can’t hope too much more…", the man reached to scratch his knee, the knee that braced up and forward like a dead piece of wood.
The woman turned around slightly and leaned forward. A man ran by listening to music on tiny earphones, his naked legs red and moist with fresh shiny sweat. "We are in this together… we will always be in it together… I have hope so you have hope… and because we’re together… we won’t ever run out of hope… you understand?"
The man on the wheelchair nodded and his hands flew up once again, one towards his chin, one towards his head, his whole upper body rocked back and forth and the wheelchair inched slightly back, away from the path and closer to the strip of grass that touched the lake with a kiss of mud. A flock of pigeons passed behind him, crying to the heavens in a mass of impulsive flight, and a red car drove by, the sound of loud music slipping out of the open windows. "I will try it… I’m not saying I won’t… It’s just that…"
"I know…" she said and looked up at the sky, so blue, so all embracing. Her large breasts rose up towards her shoulders as she sighed heavily and her mouth opened wide to let the surge of sadness escape, like a torrent of unspoken stories finding freedom among the pigeons on a sunny afternoon. "I know… it hurts me too… each and every single time… but we have to keep on trying."
"And if not this time…?" the man let the wheelchair slide back just another inch, his static foot rising up like a hopeful banner, then he slid down back into place, and his eyes came to rest firmly on the woman on the bench. He could then see her as a little girl running down the street behind him, calling for him to stop and come back, for him to take her where he was going and he could see himself just running faster and faster, unwilling to give her even a second to catch up. He could then see her as an older woman with her hand around his wrist, leading him across a busy street, talking to him in a stern voice. He could see her with him, walking together to the grocery store by the beach, both of them hoping for a taste of adventure among the many colored aisles. He could see her as a beautiful young girl in black shorts and a white shirt, pressing her breasts against him as she kissed him on the lips. He could see her as a young teenager, leaving with her friends, wearing skirts and dresses that he didn’t approve of, grooving down the sidewalk as they all laughed together like a pack of wild hyenas. He could see her crying and waving goodbye as he marched off to boot camp, his hands trembling, his smile fixed as tiny tears rolled down his cheeks. He could see her as a frozen face inside a coffin, looking up at the roof of the mortuary and at nothing in particular, while crying women surrounded him and pressed their hands against his heaving shoulders, trying to offer support but only pulling him further down. And he could see her in front of him now, this afternoon of gentle breeze and clear skies, here with him like every afternoon as far back as he could remember, always ready, always alert, always kind, always loving, always her, truly her, whoever she truly was.
"Then next time, and if not then, then the next… we won’t give up…", her voice then was tougher, rough around the edges, with a hint of loving threat around her lips, and the wind made her curly long hair fly up behind her head, and her forehead wrinkled slightly in a sign of clear decision. She could see him too, as proud as he ever was, even now when his eyes opened wide and the pupils ran in all directions and he sometimes called her mother, and he sometimes called her lover, and he sometimes caller her daughter, and he sometimes called her friend. Even now, when he sometimes called her sister and the word was as false or as true as anything else. Inside the sunken eyes and the pale face, was the boy that she loved above all things, the boy that would someday replace her father but instead came to replace her son. Somewhere inside those eyes that shifted back and forth inside their open sockets, was the boy that truly was her man, the one that needed her, the one that saw her, the one that would always be there, sitting on the wheelchair with pigeons and trees and water at his back.
"But what if…?
"We know what if…but there are always what ifs… there are what ifs in all directions…"
He nodded and leaned his head backwards and he let the breeze dissolve all the questions that still remained at the tip of his tongue. She looked at him, open mouthed, wide eyed, the picture of a madman. Then she looked at the lake once again, at the shiny green surface where couples passed by on rowboats and pedal boats and ducks swam next to a flamingo that dipped its head into the water every once in a while. And she looked at the path and at the two tourists that were standing there a few feet away, looking at a map carefully and discussing their destination in a foreign tongue. And she looked at the man again, trapped in his metal chair, and his eyes met hers.
"This time they say they’ll fix me…"
"I know… maybe this time they will…"
A plane passed by above them and the sound of loud laughter bounced towards them from far across the lake.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I Live Around You

I live around you. I extend myself and cut myself and double myself and triple myself in all directions, and I do it all around you. I breathe around you. I hunger around you. I feed myself from you and from all that lives around you. I dream around you. Someday, I will die, clinging desperately to one last flash of gentle brilliance, and even then, my last gasp of life will be around you.
I branch out like a spider web and I come back to myself, like a word that sums up a long and carefully planned sentence, after taking many detours and sliding off on many tangents. I am very thin, thinner than a pencil at my finest points, so thin that I may break and I might not even know when it is that I broke. But I don’t worry about such things. There is so much of me and I have multiplied in so many ways that a thousand breaks won’t hurt me, they will only make me more than I already am. I cling forcefully but tenderly to you. I reach down to your roots and touch the edges of the dark kingdom that stretches far and wide beneath us both. There I find great fountains of cool sustenance, gushing graciousness that springs eternal from sources I may never understand. This mystery of overwhelming pleasure flows up through me, along the ridges of your body, up through the slivers of mine, it talks to me of places far beyond this lake, far beyond the thick sprout of life that is you, far beyond the complex web of life that is me, far beyond the tenuous surface of the water that I feel shifting just beyond my reach.
In days of great heat, my body grows as brittle as the dead bodies of insects that have come to me to find their final resting place. In those days, life is pain and the dark kingdom gives me little hope. I suck as hard as I can on its remains but it can not give me what it doesn’t have. I cling harder to you and many of my branches fall away. I can feel them floating and dancing as they slowly fly away from me, me who was their home, me who was their body, me who was the only place where they could live. In their death they are no longer me and so they become they, and they are gone and I can feel them falling on the dry grass, being pulled away by dogs, played with by dressed up monkeys, dissolving into the mud like memories of things that never happened. I know I keep on being, I know I keep on sucking on the dark source that is beneath us and clinging deeply to you and so I am still me and you are still there and I am still around you, but I must tell you, with the clearest sincerity that I can muster: there is a kind of sadness that washes over me as I see these little branches fly away and dissolve into nothingness, a selfish sadness for that within me which has fallen to the ultimate fate that awaits us both.
In days of cold, my whole body freezes and I cling harder than I should. I know I hurt you without meaning to. I know my thin branches press against your flesh in a way that is harmful and, as they press against you, they leave great wounds behind. I know I hurt you because your blood slowly drips through me and over me and I can feel your pain in subtle songs that pass through your strong body into mine. In those days of cold, I suck hard on the source beneath us both and the sustenance does come, but it is slower, less full of music and more full of dread, like the thunder of a storm that hasn’t quite begun. In those days of cold, we are all alone and not even the birds, that on warm days rest their tiny claws on your branches, are there to sing for us, and not even the monkey children laugh as they run under your shadow. In those days of cold, it’s only the two of us and nothing else, and I can almost see a dream when we stand as we do here, but there is only a great valley all around us, as far as my branches can feel, a valley that is all white and cold and dead, and in that valley we are alone forever, you and me, and nothing can ever save us from that final desolation. I don’t know where this dream comes from, but I’ve had it more than once. I wish you could sometimes tell me your dreams. Maybe I could taste them in your blood as I crush my branches around you, maybe the dreams would flow through your white pain in teardrops of sadness and windy gusts of laughter. Maybe that is where I got my own dreams. Maybe I have no true dreams of my own.
In an afternoon like this one, I can simply let my presence wander. From the top of your thick body that allows me to reach heights beyond my power, where the wind blows a little stronger and the birds are a little louder and the lake shines like a silver mirror that extends in all directions and lets me know how large the world truly is, how complex and how terrifying; to the deep darkness of your roots, where the soil and the bugs and the worms and the grass can cover me and I can become as if one of them, where I can be as dark as to forget myself in the utter oblivion of warmth and silence, and down here know that the world is simple and small and caresses me with gentle fingers of dirt.
In an afternoon like this one, I have no limits and, as much as I cling to you, as much as I live for you, from you and in you, I am alive and complete. In an afternoon like this one, I can almost believe that I love you and that you love me, and, furthermore, that there may be no distinction between you and me, and that you are like one of those branches, the ones that were me once but are no longer me as they have fallen away and are now in the process of vanishing. In an afternoon like this one, I know that the branches that were once me can never really stop being me, and that I myself may be such a branch fallen from a larger web-like being that is also me and is so large as to betray the limits of my comprehension. When I see that, I can only cling to you harder, hurting you in the process, leaking at your blood, pressing at your wounds, now without guilt, now without remorse, for I am only hurting myself and I have a right to do so.
When the afternoon passes and the night falls, I will be me once again and you will be you. And the wounds that I made on your strong body will be healing and my body will be at peace in the darkness. And then, when you are you and I am me once again, I will only tell you that I don’t know you, I never will. I don’t understand what you are or who you are. But I do live all around you. And without you, I am nothing.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Woman That Waited

A woman in her mid thirties sat alone on a bench by the side of a lake. It was an afternoon of loving cool breeze and gentle sunshine. The light sparkled off the green calm water of the lake as if there was an ocean of stars hidden under the small waves that rolled over its surface. Flocks of pigeons coalesced in great collectives of feathery darkness and then dispersed once again in all directions, singing in quick bursts of soft vibration. The long branches of the thick trees that surrounded the lake creaked as they moved back and forth with the breeze and dead leaves came slowly tumbling down to rest on the water, or the grass, or the cement. The sound of kids laughing could be heard in the distance along with the staccato of little feet running on the cement path. A pedal boat passed by with two women in it, one with a checkered hat on and one without. A large gray cat slid down the side of a tree and quickly jumped behind a dark bush. A woman laughed in the distance, in great deep gusts of happiness.
The woman on the bench sat quiet and still. She was wearing blue jeans and a light blue shirt. She also had on thick dark glasses that covered half her face. Her large orange handbag was on her lap and a piece of paper stuck out from within the bag. She looked down at the paper every once in a while. The paper was a computer printout that said: "I will meet you by the east side of the lake. I will be wearing blue jeans and black boots, probably a white T-shirt. I’m sure we’ll find each other." It also said the time when the meeting was supposed to take place. The woman read and reread the lines every few minutes, then she looked at her watch, then she would look all around, hoping that any movement signaled the end of her waiting. The woman had sat in the same bench for over half an hour now and she was starting to sweat just a little. Her brow was starting to furrow and she looked at the paper more often each time, and she looked at her watch more often and every step on the concrete path made her look around with a face of doubtful hope.
A man in long white shorts walked by. The woman looked straight at him hoping for some sign of recognition but he just walked by without acknowledging her at all. A bit later, an old woman in a light blue jacket walked by. She moved very slowly and her movements just made the woman on the bench feel the passing of time more acutely. Another man walked by, this one in jogging shorts and a sweaty T-shirt. The woman could tell this was not her suitor. Then a woman in a flowery brown dress walked by, carrying a large cardboard box. The woman had a bright clear smile on her face and a look of anticipation. The woman that waited on the bench had had such a smile about an hour ago but it had been slowly erased with each second that passed, with each footstep on the cement path that failed to produce the man she expected.
An old fashioned row boat was sliding on the surface of the lake, just a few feet away from her. A Latin woman in shorts and a white T-shirt was laying on her back, her legs stretched up and out, baking in the sun. Her partner, a short skinny Latin man with a sweaty forehead and long brown pants, took care of the rowing while looking at the form of his beloved, bathed in sunlight, overflowing with life. The woman that waited looked at the couple from behind the safety of her dark glasses, envious of them both for the moment that they shared, imagining herself laying on the row boat, letting the breeze and the sun caress her naked legs while the world passed slowly by her. She reached down to her waist and felt the edge of her panties just under her jeans. She had bought new lingerie for this occasion, just in case the man turned out to be perfect, or maybe even not so perfect, or maybe just acceptable. Now she could only feel foolish for going through so much trouble, so much expense, just on the word of some disembodied phrases on the Internet, some promises and claims that probably meant nothing, a slim electronic hope of finding her vision of happiness here, by the side of the lake.
On the side of the road that, parallel to the concrete path, also surrounded the lake with activity, just south of where the woman sat, an old white station wagon was parked. Inside, was a very big man that barely fit behind the wheel. He was wearing a very thick jacket and a furry hunting hat. His face was covered in sweat and it ran like black tear drops all over his face and down his neck. The car was full of trash and newspapers and magazines. Next to the man was an open laptop. On the screen was an email that read: "I will meet you there. I will be wearing jeans and a blue shirt. I will sit on one of the green benches on the east side of the lake." The man looked at the screen and then back at the woman that sat on the bench. His penis was already hard just at the thought of being so close to her. She was so lovely, so perfect, so full of possibilities just sitting there, looking at the water, looking at the boats. He could only stare at her profile as she waited and waited and he looked and looked and kept on looking. He would lean back and close his eyes for a moment, imagining what things would be like if he talked to her and she liked him and he could then touch her naked body, run his thick sweaty fingers over her smooth naked skin. Then he would open his eyes again, just to look at her sitting there, breathing in impatient gulps and looking at her watch and at the people that walked by her. His heart would then freeze in fear of her reaction if he were to just walk up to her and introduce himself. He could only imagine her look of horror, the shaking of her head, and the terrible ice that would then freeze all the blood in his body and the long walk of utter defeat back to the car. So he just looked and looked, hard and hot and sweaty. He ran his hand over his forehead to clear some of the sweat that kept on stinging his eyes as it fell over his eyebrows. He took another deep breath and looked at the woman once more. So perfect, so beautiful, so lovely as she waited.
The woman on the bench looked at her watch once again. It was over an hour now since the time that they had agreed on. She looked around at the path, at the tall man in a black jacket that stood by the edge of the lake taking pictures, at the foreign couple who stood on the path looking at a map and heatedly discussing their destination, at another man in red shorts that ran by listening to music through tiny headphones. She took a very deep breath that made her whole body shiver. Today she would not be the woman that leaned back on a row boat while her lover took her around the world. Today she would not remove her clothes slowly in the darkness to reveal the silky surprises she had prepared for the occasion. Today she would not smile brightly as a man told an old joke and she felt like she was hearing it for the first time. Today, as the breeze once again ran over her face and another flock of pigeons burst up into the sky like an explosion of laughter from the depth of the lake’s belly, she would only sit here and wait. She would look around some more, and look some more at her watch, and stare some more at the computer printout that seemed to dance with a music of foreboding. She would do all these things knowing now that nobody was coming, not today, maybe not ever. But as much as that could be her fate, her most immediate job was clear and apparent. She would sit quietly, breathing in trembling gasps of sadness, and she would wait.