Dinner Out

Juliette sat across from him, two uneven trails of dust and flakes from the bread bowl, one to him and the other to her. He talked about things, and the air pulled the words from his mouth and they floated. Medium well. The dock. Thanksgiving. He looked at her with such earnestness. It was a look thick and warm with sincerity and she felt like she was eating it. His look took up room in her mouth. Outside, she nodded but inside her brain raged, “Get out of my mouth! Take yourself and your ideas and your thoughts and your tenderness and get them out of my mouth!” She pictured herself raising an open palm and smacking him so hard that he fell from the chair, so fast that she couldn’t see pain pull apart his face, changing his landscape. Falling to the floor, cracking multiple bones in his face while she overturned her chair and fled the restaurant and the street and the town.

His eyes were wide and thick with meaning. The tablecloth was colored deeply, like spilled wine. His chewing sounds, the wet clopping of his tongue, his teeth knocking into his water glass. The dark curls on her head were shot through with static, currents of electricity pushing deeply into her skull. He covered her hand with his. It was too warm. Too tight and heavy and it didn’t feel fair, that he wanted so much from her. And still, she knew he wanted only a small smile, or a quick squeeze to his hand. It wasn’t much and it shamed her that she couldn’t give it to him, but still she was shot through with rage, his hand a heavy, furry paw on hers. She slid her hand out and squeezed her curls, the hair laden with electricity and pulsing into her scalp and temples and the nape of her neck.

They walk down the city street. It is evening and the air is warm. A hazy light, a muddied yellow, falls from the tall streetlights. The sidewalk is uneven and broken in places, overlapped and cracked like bad teeth. This makes the night more festive. Strollers in pairs and small gaggles touch one another, when they laugh or to squeeze an arm or steady a wife or a friend whose high heel as caught itself in a sidewalk crack. Outdoor cafes are held down with wrought iron tables and lit with votives and torches, bearing down and preparing themselves as they head into a raucous state. The married and the middle aged settle checks and finger through bills, turning from the group to count out the tip in bills.

Juliette and Michael walk, the cooler evening air sifting through the gaping holes in her crocheted wrap. ‘It should be enough,’ she thinks. The street glimmers with lit cigarettes and candle flames and waving votives, streetlights lighting upon silver earrings and flashing, teeth winking in the light from rolling headlights. Laughter breaks the night into manageable pieces, pieces the carousers can hold onto, pieces they can fit in their hands.

(Child hurt? Witnesses? Later, in the dark bedroom…)

A Lentil and a Popsicle

I am living just outside my life. On the edges, sewn into the hem, along the outline, in the grout. I am quite sure I can fit myself into one of the cream tiles lining the bathroom floor. Picture it: the tile is a square dime, smaller than an inch by an inch. I could fit there, or on the head of a pin or on the pale green shoulders of a dry lentil. I am bigger than the blue in the sky if it were to be bottled and sold on low wooden shelves at a farmer’s market. I would never sell shit at a farmer’s market. I’m not that kind of person. I’d buy it, though. I like to own things. I’d like to own the pattern of my breath. I believe I can fly. I think I can walk. Walking trips me up. I am usually not here. I cannot put my thumb on life. It is curious. I cannot press it or mark it. It is like this. I sit in meetings and talk numbers and dates. You can’t imagine. It’s not me. I never show up. The furniture is out of proportion and I consider touching the person sitting beside me. To feel their outline. To know if they are as porous as I am. They’re not. They are soup sloshing in a bowl. I’m a flowered bowl holding still soup. I spend a lot of time pressing my back teeth together, like a hot iron held firmly in place on a stubborn wrinkle. I want to flap my wrists and flutter my fingers in the air beside my temples, shaking my head like a child and humming low and deep in my throat. It is curious. I look pretty when I do this, if you have the right kind of eyes. I sit in a meeting. I sit in a chair. I perch on a top shelf. I curl into a candy dish. I drop my eyes onto a pencil on the table, a pencil gnawed by a nervous child. I am a nervous child. Teethmarks run the length of the pencil with dents, the pencil marked like an old fashioned typewriter. I slip into the slats in the heater vents. I pull at my feathers with my beak and chirp from a tree outside the office window. I know songs. I know songs. I’m full of shit in real life. I’m top notch on the edges. This is hard to follow. I could not have names for myself. I haven’t a clue what my name is. I don’t answer to anything. I’m confused like a glass vase holding dirty flower water, dying flowers pulled out from the water with a tight hand around their neck. Maybe it was me who gnawed the pencil in the real life that I sit on the edge of, like a child sitting on the hem of a community pool, concrete pulling at the seat of her swimsuit, legs loose in the water like cooked spaghetti. Her thighs are hot. Her calves and feet slim once they cut through the chilly casing of the pool water. I am stuck in casing. I am going to die in here. It’s definitely probably me who gnawed the pencil. I am always gnawing at something. You haven’t any idea. I am at all times looking for something to bite, something to sink my teeth into, something to fill my mouth, something to worry at with my teeth. I am going to break my teeth doing this, crack them and grind the stubborn ones into a fine powder. I should have been a beaver. I would have been an excellent beaver. I am not an excellent human. Humans aren’t always looking to bite, to snap. Maybe the little girl is me. Maybe those are my thin legs in the water. I left myself behind so long ago, sitting on the edge of a pool and sucking on a grape popsicle. Sucking the grape from the popsicle and leaving behind ice the color of skim milk. My lips were cracked and purple, my tongue wrinkled. I haven’t eaten in years. I can’t stop eating. Maybe somewhere a narrow version of me is walking, thin and tall as a pencil. That bitch is probably living my real life, leaving me behind lead footed. I hate her and mark her as selfish. I cannot fit into my life. I am too big. I cannot fit, I would like to scream. Wrists flapping, fingers fluttering. I ruined my bathing suit sitting on the concrete. The seat is pulled and pilling, so I left the suit behind in a damp pile on the tile floor. I stand naked in the middle of a 7-11 on a fake street in a real town in a fake city with matchbox cars zooming across steaming black asphalt. I clench a soggy box of grape popsicles in my hand. My fury has a fury. The box is soft and furry as it melts, and I scream at the bald cashier with a tattooed neck: I can’t fit. He doesn’t look up, he rings up a young mother with a thick brown ponytail held in place with royal blue elastic. I am too small, and there is too much room to fill. I get tired of thinking about it. I can’t sleep. My mouth aches. I am always tired. My tongue is pilling. A pale green lentil rattles in a mason jar. A string of cooked spaghetti slips down the kitchen wall, leaving behind a tacky streak of starch. Grape syrup can’t just leech back into ice. That’s not how it works. I don’t know how you don’t know these things. My wrists are flapping, my purple fingers are fluttering. Blue pistons break apart the glass bottles, too big to be contained and splitting the glass with sharp cracks. There is no place for me here. It must have been me who gnawed the pencil. There’s no other explanation.

July 1, 2012: First Sentences. CWE 273

She knew shit was bad when lines from poems kept popping in to her head when she waited in line at the grocery store or shaved her left knee without shaving cream. Snippets of heartbreaking poems woke her like bad dreams. She felt like an aluminum popcorn popper shaken over the stover burner, bursting with sadness and apathy and anxiety. She was tired of herself.

She quit drinking on a Thursday. She woke up after being awake since 2:00 AM which is what always happened when she drank too much. She was, as she always was, disgusted with herself and reeling and thinking about how much she sucked at life. She stood in front of the bathroom mirror after she showered, and her skin looked pinker and fresher than it had for years. Her teeth were whiter and her eyes clearer and her hair was drying in a kind of wavy, fancy way instead of hanging limp. This was strange because she had not slept and was still likely drunk and all around, she was hating herself and this day pretty intensely considering that it was only 6:45 AM.

His house was the size of a postage stamp. This is a true story. The roof was even edged with scallops, just like old fashioned stamps were. The kind you had to lick.

When Noreen touched her, she felt like she was being prayed over. And under and through and into. Noreen wrote prayers along her arms and across her stomach and she wrote prayers in the air around her and pulled her hair into long, shiny prayers that were very heavy and very light at the same time. Noreen filled her like water tipped into a vase so that things could begin blooming and the air hummed with yellow and prayers and flowers breaking open in the morning air when the sun burned off the last parts of the night.

It wasn’t so much that she was bossy, although it’s true that the was bossy. It’s more that she was what her grandmother would call a Nervous Nellie. She could work conversations in a certain way, building up interactions and breaking down others. She pulled this string and that leg kicked. She pulled that string and this hand raised.

Title? Prayers, Puppets, and Pumpernickel

She lived in an apartment above a liquor store. All windows to the liquor store had been boarded up years ago. Her attic apartment had to windows at either end, and beams of sunlight met in the middle of the floor.

She sat at her desk going through unimportant emails and she reached down beside her hips to grab two ends of a seatbelt.

I knew the potatoes weren’t soft enough. I knew they should cook longer. I knew I didn’t need another beer. I knew things were getting worse.

***

She kept biding her time, waiting until something came along that was a joy. She kept waiting for joy. I told her over and over that that wasn’t how joy worked. Joy wasn’t going to come along and sit its fat ass in her lap and let loose a bouquet of balloons into a sky washed with a paintbrush dipped in blue. Joy didn’t work that way.

She didn’t listen. She didn’t ever listen. It didn’t matter. I was desperately in love with her. I wanted to name each curl that sprung from her scalp. I wanted to give them middle names and throw each curl a bat mitzvah and a confirmation party and a sweet sixteen. I was at all times twisting garlands of paper streamers and breaking broccoli trees into manageable little bushes to roost beside bowls of dip. She was the party of my life.

I met her in an economics class. It was the second time I’d taken the class. I failed the first time. It was a hard class, but really I failed because I stopped going. That whole experience taught me the importance of failing. Failing will sit you in a plush seat in an ampitheater and raise a red velvet curtain with a fluorish. The curtains will part like the seas and there’s no need for Moses because she will be standing there in the wake, her curls snapping, her eyes flashing.

I haven’t seen her in years. I’ve bought three houses and sold two and cleaned my fridge maybe two hundred times and shaken out clean sheets over a quilted mattress maybe seven hundred times. I’ve made love over and over and slipped my head in to the laps of a parade of women. She still sits in my lap with a carboard book of matches, lighting one match after another and giggling while they fizzle. She still sits her fat ass in my heart, building bonfires and pumping the billows. I smell like sulphur and have spent years in the burn unit.

To contemplate: a story about someone who fell in love with you, instead of a story about you falling in love.