The bright orange, red and yellow of crushed leaves on the gray concrete just outside the open door. Charles’s pale blue irises highlighted by red streaks crossing the whites and the puffy crimson rims of his eyelids.
A dog looks in the window at me, just the brown muzzle and the floppy ears of a canine, peering in through the lower left hand corner of the window. Men are laughing out in the street where I cannot see. Another yellow leaf drops and blows wildly in the wake of a passing car. More cars with their anxiety making noise passing close to the open door. When they pass on the other side of the street the noise is soft and pleasant like the crashing of distant waves. Even on this side of the street some cars manage to create a gentle whoosh while others gurgle, grunt, growl and roar.
The cars are small bursts of motion and color streaking past the glass like fish in an aquarium. The trucks are slow, crawling monsters of loud carbon emitting wrath. I see a bicycle leaning against the meter that serves the whole street.
A man passes by and looks in. His nose is a cruel shape, his mouth is agape slightly as if he were breathing through it, incapable of smiling with it. The eyes of a zombie, hard like marbles, uncaring. But he is young and women who like tall lean bitter young men will find him attractive. I shudder.
Charles is soft and friendly and mumbles. His flesh looks pale and soft. There is enough of it that if you squeezed him it would be like squeezing a marshmallow. Because of the way the red made the blue of his eyes look, because I was looking in his eyes and he was looking in mine for just a moment as we spoke, I contemplate what that squeezing would feel like.
That way that he talks quietly with his back turned as he moves and I’m not sure if he is speaking to me or to himself, at first it reminded me of a dream in which you can’t quiet understand what is being said. It made me feel confused and uneasy. I wanted clear bright communication.
Today it furthers his aura of softness. His mumbling fills the air around us like clouds of cotton, cushioning us within this space of hard floors and polished mahogany.
When we first met he seemed accusing, threatening, alien. He is still alien but I like being in the room with him. I wish he would not go, not now that I suspect that what disconcerted me before was only softness.
Another leaf, this one orange like brass, summersaults down behind the back of a black man in a navy blue sports jacket who is feeding the meter.
I wish Charles would not go, but he is already gone, and I am here so that he need not be. I am left wondering over the only curiously human things we said, the few words that we exchanged that weren’t about change and cream and bags and glass cleaner.
I said: “You look tired.”
The counter was between us.
He answered: “I do? Naw. I only got up at five this morning.”
At this point he is drifting away from the counter towards the door, moving backwards as if rewinding in slow motion. “I only got to sleep for like two hours the other day.”
“Geez.” I say trying to express sympathy.
“Naw.” he says, and actually what he says sounds more like ‘No Ah‘, “I figure it’s good practice, you know, for having kids.” And then he’s out the door drifting away down the strip of gray concrete with the leaves and the cars and the others.
I compile a list of data. What do I know about Charles? He is in school because he mentioned exams when he asked me to take his shift last week. He sometimes sleeps in his car. He bakes bread and manages this store. This is precious little information. His curious remark about practice for having children, does it mean he is about to be a father? Does he have a wife? A girlfriend? Is he a bachelor who actually thinks of a future in which he has children with so much hope that he takes today’s trials as preparation?
There are not enough clues for me to come to a conclusion, not enough for me to form a working picture of what Charles’s life is like.
A fire engine screams by, a big red rectangle with flashing red yellow and white headdress rushing for disaster.
I try to imagine what it would be like to be the girlfriend of Charles. I find it difficult to imagine a conversation with him. If we got together in a different setting for coffee, what could we say to each other?
It is a challenge to imagine him saying anything deeply philosophical. This after all is the man who came out of the restroom half an hour ago and didn’t wash his hands, not even for show.
Nor can I imagine myself being a convincingly interesting person to speak to without the conversation getting philosophical. Politics is a challenge for me, and anyway I can’t picture him being passionate in that regard. Books? He can read, he is in school, but does he like to? I move on assuming that we have schlepped our way through the small talk with lots of eye contact.
I can imagine a kiss, a hug, soft warm embraces. That part is easy. He is a man and I am a woman. These two simple facts are often enough to bridge the distance between two human beings. It is enough to allow for at least brief moments of bliss.
I try to imagine him as an older man, as a husband, as a respectable member of society. I can picture him in a sweater vest.
As if to illustrate my inner musings, a man in a bright yellow dress shirt and sweater vest tromps by the window. A paper bag holding lunch swings in his hands. There he goes, my dear Charles, on his way to the office.
This is as far as I will bother my imagination to take me. The plot is already stretched thin by the fact that I could not be myself in even those earliest conversations. A life time of hiding myself is the lifetime I have already rejected. And honestly, if you were Charles and you read this, wouldn’t you find it at least mildly disturbing ?
More bodies pass by the window, a few faces turn in to see me. Many manage kinder noses and inoffensive mouths, but their eyes are those same inexpressive marbles. Cold eyes that deny entry to the soul. Leaves tremble on the sidewalk under the caress of a breeze, but never quite lift off. A man across the street turns the corner, his reflection accompanies him in the mirrored glass of the tall building he passes. A harp sings incessantly from the speakers behind my head. An older man limps by with the help of his cane.
Charles alone after I am dead and gone… Lives in motion before my eyes, lives imagined in the eyes of soft spoken strangers.
A young couple strolls by arm in arm, her red sweater against his cobalt blue coat sleeve. Just outside the open door the high heels of her black boots crush the bright orange, red, and yellow of winter leaves into confetti upon the concrete.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Thanksgiving is two days away. There is a roaring fire that spurts and flitters with life, providing a focal point of raw elemental force. A dog walks from person to person, collecting affection from each hand until they get tired of giving.
I try to keep most of my attention on the fire, remembering that there is life outside this room, but there is a struggle. The human and the raw pull at me, grabbing each arm. The big TV screen is on and we are covered in blue light, a type of light that can even trump fire.
My sister and mother are sitting on the carpet, just a few feet from the TV. “I’ve been saving this so you can see it mom.” Dorit points the remote at the TV, quickly changing channels and navigating her menu of saved shows. My sister and mother have shared a bond over the same TV shows for almost a decade now. They like the same sentimental love stories, the same big-budget romantic comedies and Oprah. “It’s Oprah’s favorite things,” my sister says with a small smile and turns to my mother.
“Ok!” my mom replies enthusiastically.
The next five minutes are filled with ecstatic jumping, near fainting, and screams of delight as Oprah fans hug each other and cry with each free gift that is carried out from backstage.
“I can’t believe I am watching this,” my dad says in an irritated tone from the couch. No one responds, but my mother gives him a dirty look before she turns back to the television. Ten minutes pass by, Oprah gives away $25 gift cards to McDonald’s for everyone in the audience, my sister’s small apartment fills with the screams of middle aged women as Oprah describes items from McDonald’s new menu. The audience is beyond enthusiastic, they grab each other, jumping wildly on their seats, the lone man in the audience is holding his head in his hands, tears streaking his face. My sister and mom are smiling, sharing in the raw emotion that pours in through the TV.
I turn to my dad, there is a look of disgust and mild amusement on his face, as though the spectacle is more emotion than he has ever felt, as though each one of them is insane for expressing it so blatantly. He shakes his head, his eyes narrow, “this is just an advertisement. You think she bought all these things? It’s just an ad.”
“I know,” agrees Maxwell, my sister’s boyfriend, whose disgust rivals that of my father’s. “Dorit already made me watch this once.”
“I can’t believe I am watching this,” my dad announces again. He grabs the newspaper that had lay abandoned on his lap and begins shifting through its pages once again, the newsprint blocking his line of sight from the TV.
“Fine, I’ll change it Yossi,” Dorit says to my dad with anger. She changes the channel, flipping it to Cougar Town. I turn to the fire and rub the soft fur on the dog's face. “Who’s this idiot?” my mom says, referring to a blond character standing next to a Thanksgiving turkey. She says it with such disgust that I am taken aback slightly. My sister sits closest to the television, a glazed smile on her face as the jokes roll by, “Who’s this idiot?” my mom says once again when the blond character reappears.
“Fine! I’ll change it!” my sister announces with annoyance. She flips through the channels and then eventually leaves it on a football game, which gives Maxwell something to dive into. Dorit turns to the dog, who’s laying next to me by the fire.
“Poo poo face!” my sister says with affection as she reaches out and twists the dog's pliable ear around her finger.
I give her a questioning look, “That’s sort of a weird pet name.”
“He is poo-poo face number 1,” she points to Maxwell, “and this is poo-poo face number two,” giving the dog a kiss on the nose.
“She didn’t start calling me that until the dog showed up.” He turns back to the TV, he’s the only one interested in the game.
“How is your job Maxwell?” my mom inquires. He takes his attention from the TV and begins to describe the window washing business in detail. I turn to my mom, who is sitting on the carpet. She is looking up at him on the couch and nodding, though I notice a slightly absent expression on her face, one she has often when people are talking. The corners of her mouth are moving, as though she wants to say something, as though there are sentences on the tip of her tongue that she does not allow to come out. Maxwell is in mid-sentence when she jumps up from her place on the carpet. She walks to the folding table that is set up by the sliding glass door and picks up the loaf of cranberry bread. “I know what I did wrong, I put two cups of water instead of one cup of oil and one of water.” She pulls on a piece of the bread and pops it into her mouth, she looks to the ceiling as she examines the flavor. She nods and then shakes her head, “it’s no good.”
When I turn towards Maxwell, he is already watching the game. Dorit is petting the dog again, my dad is still reading the newspaper. Thanksgiving is two days away and I feel the apartment getting a little smaller.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
And my name of A Good Afternoon will live in your memory until memory fades. For years you will whisper that it was “A Good Afternoon”, and your eyes will sparkle with the recollection. You will sit at the bar of the pub round the corner from your flat and say, “Hey mate, did you ever know A Good Afternoon?” And he’ll say sure. Maybe he’ll think of a golden afternoon on the lake with him rowing and ducks quacking, or maybe he knew a girl called A Good Afternoon, or a song or a poem or a band of that name might be the thing that he recalls, but he’ll nod and say sure and try to remember it before he slides off his bar stool to stagger home.
But for you there will always be a crispness to the name and to your memory of me. It will not fade. Tomorrow you will wake with it, and the next day, and the next. It will not tarnish with time. If anything, as long as your mind is intact, the recollection will grow more and more poignant.
And you can pay for this privilege of having known A Good Afternoon now, or later.
How you will make this payment remains up to you.
It will never be up to me, and you can open the door that leads to me as often as you like, but for each time payment will be due.
I mean that you will be plagued with the memory of me, the sweetness of it will burn the heart like cinnamon until you make music of me, or poetry, or tight little packets of data swimming through digital channels or even sugary confections. As I said, you will choose how to pay, you will pick the currency, but pay you must, now that you know me, A Good Afternoon.
Your debt will be carried over even into the next life. After your memory of this life dissolves and the body you thought of as you grows cold, the terrible tingling tremble of your debt will remain. It’s best to pay it in this life before moving on. You can always open the door and know me again in the next if you choose.
Your debt may also move backwards through time so that as you sit tying your gym shoes for PE time at age 12 you will feel the ache and throb of your debt. It will make you want to run away from home and join the circus or form a rock and roll band. It will make you want to paint murals on the sides of the gymnasium. It will drive you to run up to that girl and say,
“Hi. We can live forever for a moment together, I must share with you A Good Afternoon.” Or you might shout, “Bye bye to the Blair potato son.”, or more reasonably, you might manage to stammer, “I wanted to know if you want to come have mashed potatoes with me for lunch.”
If you were to follow through with any of those impulses your debt would be paid. With it I will experience a renewal as another learns to utter my name in ecstasy and grief.
Then you will be free to leave off my name and my memory. But until you pay, you will wake at 6:15 each morning on fire with the desire to share me and if you are too selfish, too frightened or too particular to pay, then you will grow old, still owing. And so haunted by A Good Afternoon you will eventually blow away like a leaf into the next world, ready to pay, but no longer graced by the remembrance of what it is you are paying for.