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First, I apologize to you as my friend here speaks no English. He has asked me to speak for him. He assumes you won’t mind if a third person is involved. Since you have asked. He wonders why, is just an ordinary man. So, we sit at our little cafe and sip our little coffees and he speaks and I write and ask if this is what he wishes to say. And by the end of the day we have moved down the road with the empty beer bottles beneath our chairs for the proprietor to tally. And I write.
Today we have been wandering the boulevard in our little town. We go in and out of shops and taste strong cheeses, crusty breads, wines. Everyone greets my friend with a smile, an embrace. They ask after his family and wish him good health. He tells me about his mother, the fish-monger’s wife, who always offered up wishes of good fortune with the paper wrapped catch of the day. “You will find great love on a rainy night, I see it.” She was invited to many weddings, many funerals, many christenings. As inheritance, my friend did not receive the fish..
“Three o’clock on Wednesday afternoon.”
“Are you certain?”
“Dear boy, I am not certain about anything. There are only hopes, worries, dreams, fears, and feelings from the stomach. You ask me a question and this is the answer that I have for you.”
I am watching as my friend has this conversation with the anxious young man. My friend sits calmly and looks at the other man with soft clear eyes. He is kind but a bit impatient with the questioning. But I understand it.
“How often are you right?” I ask.
“They don’t always tell me. Often, I trust.”
For the last time he told me, “I am just a man who is ordinary with remarkable moments. All the others, the citizens like me, the people of high rank, the ones who have faces you see on the magazines, they don’t understand this. Most days I sleep, I eat, I shit, my hair turns gray, I make love with my wife, I walk by the ocean. Like everyone, one out of three tries at anything falls to crumbs at my feet. And I try once more. Tell that to your fancy people. Now go home. We will meet again."
Five out of the twelve muffins turned out mushy. Randomly scattered through the tin. My friend was about right. I was home from my trip and staying in the cottage on my brother’s land while writing my story about the prescient fish-monger’s son. His kids and I made cranberry chocolate chip walnut pumpkin muffins. Maybe we tried to put too much in. We cut the failed moist muffins in half, put butter and medjool date slices on each and broiled them. Served them to the kid’s parents with soft goat cheese and a glass of Calvados. The muffins went uneaten.
Sixteen years ago my friend was approached in confidence by a well known journalist in his country. The journalist was to travel to a part of the world suffering civil war and famine. He felt responsibility and trepidation. He found my friend’s village. “Sir, can you tell me if I will be safe there?” They walked together. “Yes, you will be safe although your companions may not.”
On an evening in the war torn country the journalist traveled back to his hotel alone. The bomb killed his colleagues as they left the café.
In this way my friend became famous.
Seven eggs!? I’m cooking again with my nieces and nephew and they want to make a pound cake and top it with fresh peaches from their trees. I can feel my arteries hardening just reading the recipe.
A letter came with foreign stamps. My friend asked me, “Please go to visit my daughter and bring her the fabric that I gave you to carry.”
I had thought that my piece on him was ready to send to my editor, but not now. I somehow knew that the story was still being written and that I had become part of it.
Eight hours west and the signs for Cleveland got more frequent. I don’t think my friend realized the size of this country. I found my way to the tree lined boulevard of matching brick apartment houses. Upscale now, but somehow I knew that they’d been populated by fortunate immigrants for generations.
His daughter invited me in graciously as if I were family, as if they’d been waiting years for me to come. I offered pound cake and the gorgeous earth toned textured silk. I think her eyes teared and her daughter reached to touch it reverently. “It was my mother’s.”
“Nine legs,” says the daughter’s daughter. “Spiders only have eight legs.” “Nine legs! Really! It was a nine legged spider. It was extra scary.” “You’re silly.” “Thank you.”
She told me that she didn’t inherit the family gift. “Too far from the fish.” On cue the phone rang. She said, “That’s my father” and took the call in the kitchen.
When she returned she handed me a piece of paper with an address and a name. “He wants you to go to St. Louis.” I felt like my life had become a scavenger hunt and I pulled out a map.
Ten forty-two Meadow Road, Creve Coeur, Missouri is a large but tasteful colonial set atop a long curving drive. The owner moved in when he came to the US to teach philosophy at Washington University in 1958. He brought a collection of paintings and it grew with the works of friends of friends and artists he met in his travels. All European, the lesser known along side Bonnard, Vuillard, Kollwitz, Kokoshka.
“Ah, this is what you came to see. I carried it when I came here.”
Two men sitting in a dark café; titled “Conversation. Future”. Me and my friend.
Last night, driving east along route 94, I was filled with the anxious hope of one who has experienced a life changing event. Like people who have faced flood, cancer, winning the lottery, attending a loved one’s death. Like the flip of a lens in the opthalmologist’s chair: “Which is better, one… or two?” we expect our lives to change. “I’ll do more good, be more compassionate, smell the roses, try harder.”
But we keep going, rhythmic white line, green mile signs, breath in, breath out.
We’re lucky if one shift in our perception makes a change in our lives.
Well now. That was an interesting exercise I set for myself. A ten part story, each day beginning with some version of the words one through ten. Randomly written first sentences jotted down on the night of the 29th. I changed one whole sentence (six), added the speaker to nine. Had to add a “last” day on the end. An excellent experience. I tricked myself into writing a story. Tried to make each entry a story of its own. Loved the confinement: some sentences loaded like paragraphs, some silences opening rooms without lights on. A great learning experience. Thanks 100words!
I sense you behind me as I read the sign on the wall. I can’t see you. I slowly become aware of your presence at my back. Perhaps your sweater is touching mine. Perhaps not. Perhaps it’s just what passes between us. My vision fades, I’m no longer reading the words. My only sense is the intimacy, here at the wall of this museum, filling the big, clean, open, wood, glass, paper, ink, hue, murmuring room. We move on, hold hands, or wander alone. We come back together, bundle up, and hold each other warm in the cold night air.
I had to stop midsentence, breathe to will back the tears that were about to escape into my eyes. They are pertinent but routine questions and tell whole stories. How do you sleep? Do you get short of breath?
The woman was depressed. She bristled at the mention of exercise. She ate at work when she could: white bread sandwiches, hot dogs, corn, diet Coke. She lost her breath climbing the single flight of stairs to my office.
How do people settle for so little? How can I help them to expect the great things their bodies have to offer?
It would need to be a love story full of the cliché that any of us could die on any day. It would need to be a day of surety, one in which life was bold blue neon shining in that way where you look back and say, “Was that a flicker?” It would need to tell of connection – to the land, wood and windows of a home, to family, friend, lover, spouse. It would need to draw you in and make a universe of its own -- of words, writer, reader, the air and light and heat of that time.
Last October a plastic surgeon spoke on breast cancer. Her mother had it and she wanted to learn how to avoid it. She did research and now her goal is to sell lots of books, supplements and products.
It was a disturbing talk. Many in the audience had breast cancer and others were there to learn how they might prevent it. What we heard instead was that if we got breast cancer it was a failure on our part.
I’d never wish cancer on anyone, but this woman needs some strong lesson to learn that cancer is not our fault.
For dinner: Big flat collard leafs and curly kale leafs from the garden. Fingery carrots with extra digits and wrinkles from the garden. Big creamy cloves of garlic from around the other corner.
For dessert: Two kinds of apples from around the corner. Maple syrup from the neighbors down the road. Fresh butter from the cows and the neighbor down the other end of the road.
Soon we’ll be eating bananas with taste from the garden on the corner. Mangos and avocados pulled from the trees in the rainforest.
Eating locally in the northeast of the US or of Brazil.
Ears made for hearing
Around the bell crystals swing
On the body gold
Music like prayer
I can’t go any further with this poetry of sorts. Dakshina Ensemble concert this afternoon after a visit to the museum to see the process of Chuck Close’s scribble self-portrait work. Artistic license earned with talent. All of them. Amazing artists. I thought to make a recipe of sweet potato crusted quiche of sorts with mushrooms and feta topped with parmesan. It could be really awful.
The season changed. I drive in the dark now. My senses adjust to illumination only in the tunnel of road through the woods -- that fast deer, waddling porcupines, and distractible possum and raccoons have the need to cross in the evening or the early dawn.
The wood stove clicks and the radiant heat on molecules hovering above it wave the lines of the brick wall behind. Now laundry dries on racks, on nails in the beams, and on the stair railing. In the coming months the evaporation of lavender scented laundry soap will humidify the dry cold air of winter.
Quietly, almost imperceptibly, he left the warmth of our bed. I was still, breathing, barely aware. When I woke later he was gone.
Eight feet up in the crook of a tree he sits patiently listening to the creaks, crunches, and swayings of the forest. Still, bow and arrow ready, poised, to avoid any excess movement. Waiting
I mix flour, butter, sugar, whatever else, to have warm muffins when he returns. Sometimes peaceful, no deer, but a morning of meditation. Sometimes reverent and satisfied. On those days he leaves the truck up top knowing that I don't want to see.
Yesterday was the first snow. It’s not even Thanksgiving. I drove my new car inch by inch down out of the hills to its appointment to get the studded snows put on. I passed the evidence of many cars having gone where they weren’t supposed to. Winter.
My horoscope, read at the tire place, said to try a new store. I went over to the department store in town and found a sale rack in the corner. It made me happy to buy a little green tank and a pretty white dress. Light nothings for my month in Brazil’s summer.
You build your house on a lovely piece of land, with a nice view. The walls are solid. You know because you can bang nails into them to hang pictures. You bring home beautiful things for decoration and efficient useful things. It comforts you. It protects you from the elements.
One day your chair rumbles away from the desk and you wonder if you did something. The radio says it was an earthquake. You accept with the knowledge that you live on a fault; it will happen again.
You build your home but nothing can really prepare you for disaster.
I was in nursing school in the mid-80’s at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. I was working as a student in the hospital and it was near the end of the shift when a new patient was admitted. He had AIDS. None of the nurses wanted to do his intake. I was exasperated and dismayed. “I’ll do it.” He was unhappy, sick, just plain didn’t feel good. He didn’t need for people to be afraid of him. He had enough of that himself. Yesterday, for some reason I thought about his family, their loved one long gone, on Thanksgiving.
There is a long history of men sitting naked together that I don’t know anything about. They sweat, they bathe, they steam. They probably talk sometimes. There’s a picture in my head of rotund men in their 50’s sitting with arms stretched wide over the back of a bench, legs spread taking up as much room as possible. For some reason I see them smoking. But that’s ridiculous.
This morning I shared a sauna with four, most decidedly non-rotund men, 21, 32, 58, and 60. All black belts in Tae Kwon Do. And me, a 51 year old woman. Admiring.
Despite the fact that it terrifies me, I sometimes get an urge to drive fast on the winding roads. Four years ago, exactly, we were preparing for our first trip to Brazil – six months in Bahia – a “move”. I quit my job, we rented out the house, disconnected the car batteries. In the weeks leading up to our departure date I listened to Portuguese language tapes driving to work. The speedometer kept moving up – my hands on the wheel, a determined, forward feeling; the responsive car doing what it was meant to do. Going somewhere, leaving, running away.
I’m sitting in a 4x6 room with one chair, a cubby, an attractive subdued print, a curtain at one entrance and a door with a mirror on the other. Behind the mirrored door is a mammogram machine. Mammograms are harder and easier than they once were. Easier because there’s only one breast left to mash. Harder because I’ve had breast cancer. My lump was not seen on mammogram. Which is supposed to make me feel how? Soon the door will open and the rad tech, a kind woman named Gail, will say, “It’s just fine, we’ll see you next year.”
The Trouble follows her everywhere. It sits at her feet like a cat when she reads her book quietly in the maroon armchair. It watches over her when she sleeps. It stands beside her at parties, whispers in her ear, fills her wine glass. The Trouble bothers her at work, rushing in and out of her office, being a distraction.
Most of the time she ignores it. A companion, though not a chosen one, she understands it as a part of her life.
She stands, overlooking the ocean, contemplative. Trouble tugs at her sleeve. She turns to it and smiles.
I wonder what my body does when it hears the songs my unconscious heard while in surgery. What do the cells of my body, the waves of my spirit, do when they hear the music that washed through when my flesh was cut into, pieces of my breast, lymph nodes, muscle were cut out, changed, moved around. Does a certain fear lift itself? Does the adrenaline flow a little more? Do pieces tighten up? All below the surface of my knowing? Or does the music lull the body and mind into a place of rest, of paralyzed peace?
Our last day together we drove fast through the desert, into dusk, into night, the headlights cutting a swath of bright on the road, the signs, the cactus, the slow moving beasts. When we said goodbye we, never lovers, kissed. Over and over. And I giggled with the sense of nervous escapade. You said, “You giggle so that you won’t moan” and it was one of the clearest voices of my life. And we kissed again and I, accepting the moment, felt it rise from the center of my body up through my lips, my tongue, my breath to yours.
Leaving soon for a visit to Bahia. A month in summer, in the paradise of the Atlantic rainforest, places in the interior unknown by even the people who live in the next town over. Being in the company of the people who know they are beautiful, carry themselves proud of their shape and their heritage – people who, in the US , would be made to feel ashamed of the flesh surrounding their tiny bikinis, Speedos. A month with the dance of the streets, of forro’, of drums – where the sound of a garbage can being rolled down cobblestone roads is music.
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