Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 120 in October, 2009.
(Excerpt from Words For Some Lost Reason)
Baskets of imitation carnations hang from downtown streetlights. A boy with a desperate smile stands in front of me pointing to his mouth and ear. He holds out a small white card: “As best I can now trying to get back on my feet like one of you. Will you give me this chance?” Keep moving, try to do the best you can. Rebel by truth, something by fraud. Smell of popcorn and orange sherbet from a drugstore revolving door. Muted curses through the glass. Turn around, flinching, a package jammed against my legs, excuse me, I look down watching my feet as told, and almost step on a child weaving at the end of a harness, eating the wrapper from a stick of gum. A businessman with a row of ball-point pens in his pocket and deep furrows in his face gently pushes me to the curb, asking quietly, almost politely: “Kid, are you drunk or something?”No Parking in bold print beneath my feet. I ponder something and sidle past him back into the flow of traffic. Checking the time on the clock atop a bank building, I engage the tip of an umbrella two inches above the belt buckle. “Watch where you’re going,” says a man prepared for the worst. “No rain today,” I reply—pleased with my prediction. “How would you know?” inquires a woman with a child in her arms, her head stacked with large hollow curlers. I’m walking faster than the average pedestrian and feel like I’m passing no one; peering through the curlers ahead of me, telescoping the runny nose of the child. Your mother would be no less comely with a Gatling gun mounted atop her head, I observe. Pebble slipping through a hole in my sole. Image of Noella comes to mind . . . glimmering film of approaching tide. Noella the Dutch girl. She laughs and tells me Come in, Come in . . . swinging her arms in foam breaking about her waist. Her violet-blue eyes feigning fright from between strands of wet black hair as chest-high water builds and lifts her body and another wave prepares to break. Honk of a horn—I glance up, the only person in the crosswalk, red light—screech of brakes a half-block distant. Looking toward the curb lined with glaring eyes and shaking heads as I squeeze through to a small empty space in front of a display window enclosing a mannequin, her smiling face draped by stiff auburn hair. Her right hand loosely connected but graciously extended. I smile and nod at her patient cheer before continuing on to the bus stop.
With elbows pressed against my ribs, I take a seat in the center of the bench. "That's three number sevens, no number ones. Hell, I’d do better at craps than commuting," muses an old man wiping tobacco juice from his lips. A staid matron blinks her eyes from behind bright sparkling rhinestone rims. The number seven pulls away and a sailor on my left who is talking to a schoolgirl in a plaid skirt on my right turns directly to me and whispers in my ear: "Pardner—would you all mind switchin’?"
"Would you all mind switchin'?"
"What would I mind switching?"
"Places!" he hisses.
"Yes—I mean no . . .” I answer.
Across the street, walking toward the end of Broadway, is a girl with a smirk on full wide lips dressed in a naïve but dark conception of some unearthly presence. Seed of antient morning glory: falling or fallen in tailored kiln of black silk, faked and shaped with flair of a former star . . . transient and conspicuous as prophecy. She’s tall with long black hair bouncing between her thin shoulders as she moves with a tortuous gait, weaving in and among the perfumed bosoms and other vested accoutrements of her peers and elders now veering with dented expressions. Ball-grabber and jail-bait to a homesick sailor; God-forsaken little whore to a shopworn grandmother; fallen woman, girl, angel . . . no end to this life. Rumors and speculation documenting seventeen or eighteen some odd years of her life on earth.
I smile, quietly mesmerized in sunlight, watching thin cloth of tight black pants stretched as tight as a tourniquet around small shivering circles of her butt and grooved planes of her hips. She stops and gazes at a plate of diamonds in a jeweler's window. Authorized Appraisals. She lifts her foot and gives the building a tap with the toe of her boot (the building remains upright). Her black blouse, like a vented and oversized inquisitor's mask, hangs loose hiding nothing but the beat of her heart. A string of red beads reaches from her neck to her waist, encircling a gold cross on a chain becoming visible in a flashing ray of sunlight. Sacred symbol of sacred life. A chain of small bells garlands her left boot; I discern a faint tinkle in a lull of traffic when—with grave emphasis—the sailor tells the schoolgirl that his old granddaddy used to always say when he had about half a heat on there's no time like now to do what sure-as-sweet-grapes you won't ever do unless you do it now. Timely maybe sage advice. The proper grandmother with scintillating spectacles opens and closes her Macy’s shopping bag for the fifth time. Across the street, teen angel passes a shoeshine stand with a licorice stick in her hand. She glances down at the scuffed toes of her boots, takes a bite of licorice, and then glances behind her, knitting her brows, gaze intensifying as if questioning something that just came to mind. She proceeds around the corner down Fifth to be desperately disparate in a darker scheme—or do nothing more than hustle homeless sailors.
“Take off your boots and guns and come see what I love,” I whispered to Noella, shyly, understanding pretentions of my invitation as she shed sand and sandals before lying in my bed. I must learn, she declared sometime later, to follow my own advice. A soldier just destroys; you create something and then let it starve and die—what is worse? (“I accuse—I accuse you for creating something and then destroying it; for using words without understanding their meaning; for lying; for not taking off your boots,” she wrote. “I feel bitterness toward you in a way you can only feel toward a person you once thought to love,” she said.) "And just how in hell," the sailor asks the schoolgirl, "can you ever expect to get a chance if you don't have the stuff it takes to take a chance?"
I wonder who knows more about love and lies—me or a fledgling angel? With the light of a western sun drifting in the steep windowed canyon of Broadway, I move on.
It’s important that you understand what I cannot say in the usual way. Now leaning against the facade of the Full Gospel Rescue Mission, I remember a bare concrete floor against the back of my head. Rope-like span of my pants and underwear entwining as they’re yanked down and jerked free of my hips, feeling dull fingernails and rough hands running the length of my bare legs. A long time ago is just a few years ago . . .
Dogs without leash or license and sunburned winos with unbelievable smiles are like crickets: sounds of souls mourning lost bodies. A lone man, singing and mumbling to himself, seeking some mystery caught alive in a sea breeze, stumbles off a sidewalk—denizen of this flat brick wilderness off Broadway—his mind roving like a cruel child looking for something or someone to torment who won’t tell . . . and he finds me. What was I doing down here? Looking for my father who left my mother bruised, penniless, and wild-eyed. As he led me away there was no trip to the zoo or afternoon matinee or even the city park, but instead a dark storeroom stocked and strewn with green wine bottles and assorted debris. He said he would make it all up to me—the lost time and bad times—we would have a good time, and he would satisfy my every wish if it took all day and all night. I was, after all, the daughter of the woman he had loved and who had once loved him and who he now must love or rape, for he didn’t know the difference. You found me!—he exclaimed—now you can have me. My knees straining to lift his girth that pressed my body back down like the will of a dream that you do not, cannot, awaken from and will never stop crying over. I screamed until I knew there was no use; no one would hear, and if they had, they would only come to watch. Then silence within me and all around me. Crouched in the farthest corner of the room, he watched me experience feelings of pain I can’t express, then left me rolling in dust and blood, in shock, mute. Words still feel dangerous, random . . .
The sky is now a shade closer to darkness. Tristan, were we born to meet in a Goodwill warehouse? Did you notice there are no birds or flying creatures in this part of town? You who are so cautious as you step past a rusty and bent No Trespassing sign. A clicking accompanies the soft heel-to-toe thump of your foot. Beside you, beyond you, beneath you, I am the mocker, for it is my mission to break your love of one whom you would rather die for than believe in. You who don’t believe what you read in the papers but believe in the love knot of the past and read words into the silence of the present. Last night something ended. Now, right now, witness the possessed and possessive coming and going at the same time . . . it is, I believe, your fortune to do again and again what others do in madness but once.
Perhaps I should reveal my presence by smoking an exotic cigarette, or ignite a box and assume the role of a reckless saboteur. Upon stepping out of my costume, I could envelope you with my body and yell rape but we know that doesn’t work. You’re so tense you wish to cry, fearing to scream lest you awaken what you seek, or be found out. Who is hiding? I could urge you to leave—but . . . are you ready to trade your gilding tongue for eyes that would really see and ears that would really hear? You pause, taking a deep breath, upon hearing creak of a cardboard box labeled costumes. Clicking of something else keeps clicking. Sounds of evening in shadowy corners of a new dark room. Comforting wheeze of one's own breath. Your perception deep into the darkness, a figure—a profile. Now you see me, now you don’t. You try to find a vantage point and get your bearings. (Like me trying to say what you cannot see.) Divine your direction all around you! You can walk over here and over there at the same time. Forget how long it takes to get there. Time is as uncertain as words. You’re shivering. You reach into your pocket for a cigarette but notice a broken sign on the floor. NO FUM—.You return the cigarette to your pocket, clicking the lid of your lighter which sounds like the clicking of another lighter somewhere up front by the window where you see a rectangle of night. Beneath the sill there is empty space, more dust and shadows. Tristan. Your head spins to the rear. You hear a sound, a soft sound. Your shins tremble as you step in the direction of the sound. There beneath the water pipe that runs along the drop-ceiling, on the floor—a half-eaten licorice stick. Look at it, placing your lighter on the floor, pick up the licorice, turning it around in your hand; the water pipe jerks like a cramped muscle; you rear to attention and slam your head between ceiling and pipe. The vibration runs the full length of the dark room as you collapse in a heap . . . there upon the floor, last place to find an angel.
I straighten your legs and lay you flat on your back. I unbuckle your belt, unsnap your jeans and pull them down to your ankles. Then I take off my boots and pants and almost everything else. I grab your penis and let it spring loose from your underwear. Now your eyes are open, staring at me. I am naked and perfectly fair but for black panties (silk to be sure; fine enough to see through and black enough to remember forever) which I slip off and, on a whim, fit them onto your head of long-haired curls like a skimpy shower cap. You look as if you’re trying to see through me—a not unreasonable expectation—as I slowly lower myself upon you without asking your permission. I am forever virginal and it goes without saying as almost everything does that I’m immaculate. Perhaps I’m seeking revenge or pleasure or probably both as I guide your penis, precious dick into my . . . shall we call it pussy, vagina, twat, or what? Does it make a difference to you? Your eyes squeezed shut, mouth gaping, choking nearly sobbing when you come, thrusting your pelvis, gasping for air with a guttural squawk. I raise my hips letting you slip loose and slide up on your chest to the bottom of your neck and clasping my hands behind your head I lift your head and . . . look at you, for I feel deeply for you, soft unblemished features, a few freckles on the bridge of your nose, a boy turning into a man without knowing. Your eyes have smiles in them that you don’t know about. How will you handle that foreign expression? I’ve captured your gaze for I am the only light in this squalid shadow of a room, a lovely lantern of a lady (vanity or modesty are one in the same to me). Your tongue and mouth conspire but find no words to express your feelings—I know, you have a love and you will continue your search for the woman with black hair (like me) and violet-blue eyes (like me), but for now— .
I pull up your pants and buckle you up. I step into my tight black pants and inch them up my long legs and, with a little tug, pull them past my butt which you would adore and kiss like it was your last rendezvous. You watch me, dreamily, temporarily speechless, staring, eyelids growing heavy—then you’re asleep. I carefully untangle my panties from your thatch of curls and fold them four times into a small square memento (souvenir of a cocoon of a room) and tuck it into your shirt pocket. I disappear more quickly than I appeared. We have met, and you have done a kindness for me— in moments and minutes, nostalgically, finally we look out from cages into cages, don’t we?
Upon awakening, an ache fresh in your mind, you will note hasp locks unbolted and the strange recollection or mystery which is yours. You will be alone, feeling as though you have lost track of something valuable beyond description. As you rise to your feet, you will note light and day in the open door across the room. And you will hear a sweet whisper—“Onward.” The Angel speaks.