Sunday, December 28, 2008

Loose Ends, Paper, Guys

Whenever I leave town I have to clean beforehand. Office, house, computer inbox. I delete old piled-up stuff and swoosh things out of sight. My house is cleared out and ready for showing. Someone could come in and just start living there. You could eat off the floor. All my clothes are washed, dishes put away, trash emptied.

Because I take trains, I have to schlep all my stuff. So only the bare essentials go into the bag. No extra shoes, no "dress clothes" no doubles of anything, no books. NO BOOKS?! You're a writer!! How can you go anywhere without books????? a friend asked recently. Well, I find I end up not reading on trains. Looking out the window is too interesting. Or talking with another passenger for a while. Walking up and down the aisle, through the other cars, standing between cars to get fresh air. I sometimes write things on a train, but reading is hard. So I don't bring books.

It's not like they don't have stores where I'm going. And libraries. And anyway, I already have too many books. Not enough time. On the other hand, I can't imagine going ANYwhere without paper. Not even to the store. Since much of my writing is done while walking I always have paper with me. Ever since the time 10 years ago when I was stranded in a Wal-Mart parking lot without any.

The guy I was with needed something in the store, so I waited in the car. He took longer than I thought, so I reached in my bag for a notebook. There was none in there. I looked in the glove box. Nothing. The back seat had greasy food wrappers and empty cans but no paper. None! Not a napkin. No credit card receipts, not even a matchbook. What kind of guy IS he anyway, I muttered as I ransacked the sun visors, side pockets, under the seats. There was no effin' paper anywhere in that car!

I thought of going into the store and buying a tablet, but then what if he came out and saw I was gone, thought I'd gone in the store, and went back in to find me. What if I came out while he was back inside, and we missed each other. What if I then went back in to see if he was looking for me and meanwhile he came back out and saw...... Well, you get the idea.

So I sat there waiting. And fidgeting. I stared out the window. Out in the parking lot across several rows was a garbage can. I went over and dug down into the snarl of food containers, cans, wax paper, and stuff I didn't want to know about. Finally, there was a brown paper bag from somebody's lunch. I pulled it out, dumped the half-eaten tuna sandwich and drinking straws into the can, and went back to the car.

I left my friend a note on a piece of bag: See ya later, guy! There's not a scrap of clean paper in your car. Then I hitched a ride on out of there as fast as I could go.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanks, Eating

Wind grazed the corners of the house with a klaxon sound, and dark came early. By the time the turkey was done, it was nearly 7:00. She surveyed the masses of food on kitchen table, stove, counters, even chairs. There was so much to clear away before she could set the table, and she was tired, sweaty. So, she went in the bathroom pulling off clothes as she went. Running the bath, she thought of the big old fashioned muslin towels from her grandmother's house in Kansas. They were on the top shelf in the tiny linen closet in the hall.

Getting out of the tub after a long soak, she reached for a towel. It was one they'd filched from the Ritz a few summers before, and wrapped herself in it. She liked how it swathed her. It didn't just dry; it drank off the droplets. She went out in the kitchen, wrapped in an old flannel dressing gown of her mother's, and took down the big plates from the shelf. She went in the other room to get out the old towels, and brought them into the bedroom. He looked up, and smiled as she tossed them over. Here, cover the sheets and duvet with these.

She went back in the kitchen and dished up braised potatoes and dill, turnips, cauliflower puffs, olives from a large jar. She hacked off hunks of light and dark meat, and spooned mushroom bechamel over the pieces. Then she gathered up napkins and spoons, and carried them into the other room. She handed him a plate of food, and set hers on the crate at the side. She went and got a bottle of merlot and two water glasses. A dark cloud covered the sun and the room was in shadow, so she lit a fat yellow candle. The scent of beeswax filled her nostrils on the way back to the kitchen for a corkscrew.

She climbed in with him, handed him the bottle. He knelt and drew out the cork, poured both glasses to half. They saluted each other and sipped. He lit another candle and turned on a reading lamp. An album of adagios played in the other room, and sleet began to ring in the gutters. She tore off a slice of turkey dripping with sauce, chewed it, then sucked each finger. The red of the wine glinted in golden light and he reached across her to click off the floor lamp. They ate with fingers slippery with juice, lips purpled and rough from merlot.

He moaned with a mouthful of glossy brussel sprouts , and chewed his way to the end of a carrot slick with oil. He kissed her buttery mouth as she chewed. The tender white breast was just right. Turnips glossed in candlelight, and velvety mushroom veloute went down easily. Both hands full, she murmured through a mouthful of potato that she wished he would get the drizzle of sauce that'd slid down her shoulder. He licked it off, and poured more wine in her glass. She wiped a smear of butter off his adams apple, kissing his neck to make sure. He shuddered into the heap of pillows at his back.

The sauce was so good she licked the remains off her plate, and leaned over for more wine. When she sat back his plate tipped, and sauce went everywhere. Luckily, the muslin towels were big enough to wipe off her thighs and forearms as well as cover the bed. He chuckled and tied one around her neck like a bib. she scooped up three fingersful of mashed turnip and slung it at him. He retaliated with a slice of thigh meat slipped inside her robe when she wasn't looking. She yelped and picked up the bottle of wine, swigging right from the neck. He pulled her to him and shared a morsel of mushroom sauce-drenched potato, mouth to mouth. She giggled and swallowed, then slid out of bed to get more.

Later on, the night sky cleared and frost formed on the steamed-up windows as they ate and giggled their way through the food. Sated at last, she slumped into rumpled pillows and dozed. He picked bits of food out of folds of muslin, and piled the plates on the floor on his side. Then he cleaned off her face and neck and arms with a sock, and they drifted off to sleep.

She woke in the small hours, sticky with gooey residue, thankful for darkness and plates, the whiff of waxy honey from candles burned all the way down, the tang of dusky wine in her mouth, all the days of her life in the low relief of a momentary private place.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Did you hear the bells on my ankle bracelet?

Got back so late the stairwell was dark, so I held onto the sticky railing all the way up to the top floor, where you were sleeping with the door to our apartment ajar, the curtains inside drawn and windows open. It was chilly in the room, but I stripped down to nothing before I crawled under the duvet and nosed your shoulder. A wind blew the white gauze curtains out like ghosts in the room, and I guzzled your whole mug of cold tea, schwushing it around in my mouth before swallowing.

You groaned and rolled over into me, and I pushed you back, snuggled into your warm spot and drew my knees up. Things rolled around on the floor of the attics at each corner, but you didn't wake. I put my hands on your hipbones and slept.

In the middle of the night the wail of a train drew me upright, shivering and clutching for blankets or pillow, anything to anchor me in the dark, to hold me to you, your waking moments and unguarded smile, the ways I'm undone by the unbuttoned pyjama top worn and wrinkled with our life, torn at one elbow where so often you leaned reading late at night while I made my way home somewhere, the tink tink of jewelry accenting slow leather-soled footsteps.

Failing you, and finding you still here, warm at my fingertips, the wind howling in the night outside, the frayed white sheets, the alarm clock ticking loudly in a quiet so full of waiting I could hardly breathe.....

Big Guy, where are you?

He disappeared! Last she saw he was making his way down the car to the exit, carrying a briefcase. She thought about this awhile. . Well, I guess he'll find a couple of seats empty so he can spread out and sleep. Me, I have not been able to sleep sitting up since The Eighties. Haven't been able to drink three shots of aqua viva since about then either. Cripes.

The train rhythm soon put her to sleep, and night closed in. All around her were sleeping passengers, but she was unaware. Every now and then a sound of fumbling footsteps or a thump against the door of her compartment would half rouse her, but nothing rang bells, nothing pulled her out of the muzzy sleep of too many glasses of booze at bedtime. Just after dawn, a tentative tap at her door did wake her.

She sat up, pulled a worn flannel shirt on over the tank top nightie, and she slid out of bed. Who's there, she called out. It was the conductor, with a note in his hand. That guy you were drinking tea with in the lounge last night.....he asked me to give you this, but I forgot until this morning. Sorry. He handed over a thick folded letter, and went on down the corridor. She stepped out into the narrow space and raised the shade. Sun was just burning the edges of things out there. Wide far-reaching fields, with here and there a lone boxelder or locust, a row of cottonwoods along a stream bed to the right, and not much else.

I need coffee, she murmured, unfolding the pages. Seven altogether, written on both sides, in blue ink. Dear woman, it began, I don't know your name, but I will call you Ursula for now.....