Thursday, August 23, 2012
She guided the cool plastic steering wheel with her left, ungloved hand, turning it expertly as the road curved just slightly to the left, and then a moment later, to the right. On her left was the Alemany farmer’s market, which she knew started very early.
It was 7:30 and already there were groups of two or three middle aged Asian women crossing the street, leaving with heavy bags of produce and vegetables she could not name. She surveyed the sea of white canopied tents from afar as she waited for the light to change. When it did, she was off, scanning the road for potential hazards, as Mr. Dutton had taught her in driver’s ed.
She went underneath a freeway overpass and was once again delighted to see the mural on the large cement pillar that held up part of the overpass bride. It was bright, with all the rainbow represented. The painting wrapped around the wide cylinder and there were huge purple and yellow flowers that guided the eye smoothly towards the predominant subject: the torso of a smiling black woman nearly enveloped in foliage and colors.
She hit another light as she emerged from the shadow of the bridge. She sat, watching the various lanes of cars take turns moving through the intersection. A Beatles song came on the radio and she sang along with the lyrics.
“Jai Guru Deva. Om... Nothing's gonna change my world.”
She noticed the vacant lot on the corner edged with wild fennel over five feet tall. Where some of a fence remained, scrawled graffiti speckled it like bird droppings on a rusted car.
“Nothing's gonna change my world.”
She sang, and it was one of those moments, so early in the morning, when everything seemed perfectly in place. All the thousands of moments that had filled her lifetime, the people she had known- those that had been forgotten and lost, the moments she remembered and the pain that had etched itself into her story, everything at that corner seemed so delicately perfect.
It was now a familiar sensation that seemed mostly to come on these early morning drives, sometimes with a warm jar of tea in her hand and a sense of something at the edge of her skin and awareness more beautiful than she could ever really describe, a wonder that went beyond the knowable.
“Jai Guru Deva. Om... Nothing's gonna change my world.”
As a tear swelled up and pushed itself over the lip of her eyelid, she remembered that she had cried at the very same spot during a Beatles song just a few weeks before. The same song. The same moment repeated. She let the tear flow, letting the tiny river stay on her cheek tingling with life.
Breathe, she remembered. Her chest expanded as the light changed to green and she pressed on the pedal.
Later she would think about the corner- what was it about that spot, so early in the morning, that brought her to life? Later she would caress the edges of consciousness and marvel at the mystery of the recurring story.
But for now, before the human remembered itself, she sang and let the tears fall as they would.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
“We’re from Livorno.”
When the waiter was gone I asked if he had just made some names up.
“No! That’s where your great-grandmother is from. A lot of the streets are named after the family- Romero.”
It took him 25 years to tell me that.
“At most the family lived in Egypt for a few generations, but it might have been less than that.”
I looked around the small elegant restaurant, the twilight of the night seeping in through the plate glass windows. We were four stories up, the small tea light glittered over the white tablecloths.
I always felt like there was so much they kept from me- why 25 years to mention that the family was from Italy?
"Your grandfather’s people came from Israel- before it was even called Israel. They lived there before it was even Palestine.”
“What did they call it?”
He was silent.
My mom sat there quietly. She flipped through some of the free tourist magazines she got from the concierge at her hotel. She always seemed bored when it came to family history- for years she had deflected questions about immigration and national origin- I wondered if her past was too painful- the father that abandoned her, the other side of the family she rejected after her mother died when she was so young.
She abruptly put the papers down. They crinkled and we looked at her.
“Do you use your Costco card much?”
I nodded, stunned momentarily by the banality of the question.
My dad ignored her.
“I want to buy a book called The Jews of Egypt. It’s rare, someone is selling it for 150.00 on Amazon.”
“You should get it, it’s not too much for a rare book.”
“Your grandfather was a Zionist. The dream of the Zionists was to go to Israel and work on the land. Through history the Jews had never been allowed to own property- that’s why they went into certain professions, like bankers and doctors and merchants. But the Zionists wanted to be farmers and work the land and be in Israel.”
“Why did it have to be there? If they wanted to farm, why did it have to be on that particular piece of the planet?”
He looked at me in disbelief.
“Because it's where the Jewish religion started. If they didn’t go there, they might as well go to the moon! It was only place they could go. There was no Jewish population in Egypt until commerce and management brought them back.”
Later we stopped by their hotel room so my mom could get an extra sweater. My mom asked me if I had talked to any of the old girlfriends from high school.
“Not since I missed Aryn’s wedding.”
I saw a look of sadness go over her face and I realized I had said it only to hurt her.
I could have gone to the wedding if I had really wanted to, but when they withdrew their initial offer to help pay for the trip, I decided against it.
She lashed back.
“I don’t know what’s important to you anymore, going to a wedding, being in a relationship, starting a career…”
She trailed off. She had never known what was important to me, not in high school, certainly not now.
They were about to drive me home. My mom turned around and looked back at the room.
“You know, if there’s an emergency, we can ask the hotel to bring in a cot for you to sleep on.”
I nodded, my mind filling with visions of fires and floods as we walked down the carpeted hallway towards the shiny elevator.
“Tomorrow we are going to see Les, my old friend from college,” she said.
“You mean More.”
My mom looked at my dad with a smile.
“You’ve been saying that for years, his name is not ‘more.’”
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Isa is nestled in the thick coiling roots of a Monterrey Cypress. The roots are curved and exposed to the air like tentacles that emerge from the earth and then dive back into it after a series of loops. The trunk of the tree is massive, the bark scratches against her back which is only covered in a thin cotton long-sleeved shirt. The roots hide her body from anyone that might be walking along the sidewalk or the occasional car that passes by, their headlights illuminating the tree for just a second before driving on.
She is just a few steps and a leap from the ocean. Fifteen feet below, the waves crash into the rocks, colliding not with violence, but with a persistent relaxed motion that moves forever without rest. The sound is calming, like a nighttime lullaby.
Isa looks out into the black ocean sparkling with faint moonlight. The air is crisp with approaching fall. The elements seem more alive, and she feels more real in it. With acute clarity, she feels the coolness of the salty cliff covered in fine dust, the rough bark of the trunk, the breeze full of salt and moisture, the roar of elements as water and rock meet.
Her left hand is in her pants, feeling the warmth of her bare skin. Her thumb and pointer finger are expertly holding a vibrator to her clit while her others hold back the cotton of her panties. She is hidden there, alone under the cloak of a dark sky, the protruding tree roots and the ocean sounds.
Her eyes are open, alternating her gaze from the sea to the cypress canopy above, barely visible against the dark sky, to her stomach and her legs. Isa closes her eyes as she gets closer, clenches her abdomen and imagines tied-up young women on stage in front of a barely visible audience, women bent over metal contraptions, gagged, helpless.
The fantasies quicken her excitement and her clitoris swells with blood. She moves rhythmically and opens her eyes, watching the approach of foam-tipped waves and the serene rise and fall of salt water in the distance.
She is alone out here, alone but accompanied by all the elements. She begins to ride the tide, pushes her breath out a little quicker, tightens her lower abdomen, and she soars over the edge.
Monday, August 13, 2012
Ethella picked up a few cellophaned chunks of cheese and checked out their weight and country of origin. As she put the French brie back in its place beside its brothers and placed the cheaper American-made one into her red store-issued basket, she heard the song. It was immediately familiar.
Most supermarkets play the same songs, about 100 recycled tunes from the last 50 years of rock. This particular familiarity, instead of getting lost in the mire of repetition, struck emotionally, blasting a buried memory into perfect, ringing clarity. And the cheese, the shoppers around her, the weight of the basket, it all wove into a multitude of threads, experience and perception becoming both more bright and blurry at the same time. Tears came to her eyes and she moved her head softly humming along.
She had a babysitter named Jennifer one summer when she was 10. Jennifer was 15 and had long blond hair and wore red lipstick. She suggested that Ethella and her younger sister prepare a romantic surprise dinner for their parents. They planned a menu of spaghetti and red sauce, salad and dessert, they had Jennifer’s mom drive them to the supermarket to buy the ingredients and flowers.
At 4pm they started cleaning and creating the space. Ethella set the formal dining table with their nice linens and china reserved for special occasions. The dining room was separated from the kitchen by a decorative angular archway and Ethella tacked a large tablecloth in front of it to block out the view and light from the kitchen.
Before her parents came home she went to the stereo in the living room. There was a clutter of tapes and records- none of them familiar to her. She picked one up at random and put it into the tape player, she listened to it for a second and thought it was perfect. Smooth, low vocals- it seemed right for a dinner set to candlelight.
Her parents came home. Ethella’s mother changed into a nice dress and sat at the table with Ethella’s father, both of them going along with what the girls had created. After dinner her mother asked how she had known to play that particular tape, “it’s the most romantic music we have.” Ethella shrugged, not yet having words to describe intuition and mood.
A familiar song played in the grocery store. She only remembered hearing the music that one night so many years ago. She walked through the aisles, past other shoppers oblivious to her joyful tears and open heart. She swayed her head while singing the few words of the chorus she could make out.