– October 2012
by Hafizah Geter
Beneath all the hoof prints:
by Emily Rapp
Solving the Body Problem at the Bikini Bar
The beloved expresses a possible world unknown to us…that must be deciphered.
—Rivka Galchen, Atmospheric Disturbances
Today I found myself in a world unknown to me: Saturday afternoon poolside culture at the Riviera Resort & Spa in Palm Springs. I’m here to talk to MFA students about creative nonfiction. That’s tomorrow morning. This afternoon I’m sitting at the poolside cabana bar - people watching, typing, sending cell phone snapshots of palm trees and lounge chairs to my friends at home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with captions like Hard at work in PS!
Every twenty seconds a cool, eucalyptus-scented mist drifts down to the table like cold smoke blown from an invisible vent. It is warm in the shade, although not uncomfortably so, with a breeze that alternates between moving gently over my over-dressed (read: dressed) shoulders, and blowing hard enough to sweep my notes under a neighboring table. “Uh, sorry,” I say, and grope around near sandaled feet to collect my papers off the ground. The woman perched on a stool in front of me has a giant black bow draped across the top of her butt. Her boyfriend (well, he’s got his hand on the bow, but one never knows) is wearing an LA Lakers jersey. Tattoos abound; tattoos are cool among the 18-35 set. I wouldn’t be out here, my artificial leg has endowed me with a deep phobia of public pools, but the peppy music is unavoidable and overwhelming, even from the desk in my room, so I figured I might as well get some vitamin D and drink an overpriced mojito if concentration is going to be this difficult no matter what. I have brought my computer to a beach party, a move that is nerdy enough (thankfully) to render me invisible. I have work to do but all I can think about is that I am a mother and my son is dying. My baby is dying. Ronan is dying. He is fourteen months old. Next June my son could be dead. Next June I might be at his funeral. I know I’ll still be in therapy. Or maybe Ronan will still be alive, sitting in my lap. Maybe I will have abandoned an endlessly discussed plan not to intervene and to let him “die naturally,” and outfitted him instead with a feeding tube, a chest vest, a catheter. What am I doing here? Making money, I remind myself. Making a living. Who am I? My baby is dying. I am absurd and out of place, but here, at the pool, distraction is everywhere. Frivolity: everywhere. I am mercifully lost in it for one moment.
To my embarrassment, I recognize every song blaring out over the pool from the unseen stereo: from Zumba, a spin class, an Irish nightclub in the 90s. When I hear I like to move it, move it, I’m back in pre-European Union Dublin, drinking a lukewarm vodka cocktail from a plastic cup, wearing fake leather pants and a tight black t-shirt, dancing under a disco ball. One bad bubble gum song floats into another.
Don’t stop keep it moving put your drinks up
Palm Springs appears to be the vacation destination for the following folks:
-Gen-exers who grew up watching MTV spring break dance parties and are re-living a life they never truly lived (pitchers of colorful booze; sun-soaked afternoons; giddy group photos under palm trees; poolside booty-shaking good enough for a B-grade music video).
-drag queens (a group? A gaggle? A herd?) in various states of inebriation and undress or overdress. I’m so fucked up! A man wearing a blond wig and a cheerleading costume confesses to me.
-Christian couples who pray loudly over egg white omelets and black coffee at the poolside breakfast buffet.
-Men wearing golf shorts and plastic visors who sit at the bar and look alternately confused and delighted as they lady-watch the nearly-bare bodies of girls young enough to be their daughters.
-Writers like me and the other 70-odd MFA students gathered at this resort to learn about writing!
-Women who seem to have inadvertently (or intentionally) purchased the same fedora hat (pale straw with a thick black ribbon) like the ones I once coveted at a Los Angeles farmer’s market three blocks from my old apartment where Ronan took the first naps of his life in his swing chair (aka “the throne”).
The logo of the Bikini Bar is, of course, a heart-shaped, lip-like bikini bottom. Bodies, bodies, bodies everywhere: dancing, swaying, drinking, eating, singing, looking, hugging, pulling swimsuits up or out or away from different cracks and attempting to remove unflattering angles. Bodies walking without thinking, brains thinking without worrying about it. All of these normal bodies, and others as well: a man using a wheelchair speeds across the hot asphalt walkway circling the pool. A stick-thin woman with sunglasses twice as big as her face swans through the shaded tables, heading for the bar, all male eyes on her. She executes a professional quality hair flip and asks for a strawberry mash martini.
Whoop! There it is! I watch the man take his wallet from his back pocket with one hand and extend his other hand to the woman in the sunglasses. His name is Bob.
Where am I? Why am I here?
When I was in divinity school in Boston, a guy I’d known in college asked if he could stay with me while he interviewed at hospitals for his upcoming surgical residency. I had an open door policy in the third-floor walk up on Cherokee Street (pronounced Cher-OH-kee by the folks in the neighborhood). In the morning as he poured himself a bowl of cereal, he asked me, “Was that you crawling to the bathroom in the middle of the night?” Without waiting for a response, he continued, “you looked like a cockroach!” I felt my whole body go hot, and he was laughing, so I laughed, too, and we sat and crunched our cereal and watched the news in silence; but later, as I waited in front of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral in the mid-morning cold for the 66 bus that would take me to Harvard Square, I felt the beginning of a headache, and then tears threatening to edge their way out. Milk and All Bran roiled in my stomach. A cockroach? I climbed onto the bus, put my head against the cold window and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to look at a single human form. In the middle of the night I’d forgotten he was sleeping on the crappy futon in the living room; I’d forgotten to put on my leg before walking to the bathroom; I’d made a mistake, put myself on the outside of normal. How old is your baby? People ask me at the store. Is he walking yet?
This time, baby, I’ll be bullet proof
I worked at a bar in Boston while I was in divinity school, but it had nothing to do with bikinis. The bar was dark oak, the walls exposed brick. I poured pints of beer while scanning verbs for a French exam or paragraphs I needed to understand for a philosophy paper, my books and photocopied packets propped up under the bar. In the winter people sat by the fire as the latest Nor’easter raged outside, once burying the trolley completely, everyone watching, saying wow as something they stepped into every morning on the way to work, a thing that seemed so solid and certain and inevitable – this is my stop – gradually disappeared under a curtain of snow. In the summer customers tripped through the front door, sweating and panting and lifting their faces to the air-conditioning vents. The windows steamed in every season. I wore black turtlenecks, baggy jeans, black combat boots, about three hundred coats of mascara and the brightest red lipstick I could manage without looking like I should be standing on a street corner instead of behind a bar. In Palm Springs, the Bikini Bar waitresses tuck check folders into the backs of their bikinis and the only thing on their face is a pair of sunglasses. They are fit and tanned and make-up free. I envy them; their freedom, their bodies, their lives.
You must not know about me. I can have another you in a minute. In fact he’ll be here in a minute, baby
Where have I landed?
The world is at war. My child is dying. The world is at war. My baby is dying. And I want to be that woman at the bar in the three hundred dollar sunglasses. I want someone to buy me a sweet drink. I want to be twenty-three again, in Boston, studying for a Hegel final on my dinner break. I want everything to be theoretical. I want to sing along to the bad music in my tiny bikini, not thinking not thinking not thinking.
Somebody call 911, shiny fire burning on the dance floor whoa oh oh oh
Last night, in a dream, I wake up on a beach to find that both of my children have gone missing. I shake sand from my hair and blink into the sinking sun. The waves are gentle and sparkling in the gentle, fading light. I’m not worried, as I have not yet scanned the length of the beach, and the non-dream-me is surprised and happy that there are two kids – Ronan and a little girl, Rose. The dream-me panics when she realizes that the dream kids are truly gone. My friend’s child (a friend with no name, a child with no name) falls on the beach in front of me like a bird shot out of the sky and I lift him up, unharmed, when he holds his arms out to me and speaks to me in Ronan’s voice, a voice I’ll never hear, saying “up.” I walk along the beach with this strange child on my hip, looking for child-sized footprints and calling for Ronan and Rose. “What does she look like?” I ask the child that fell from the sky. “Bah bah bah,” he babbles.
This is just a love story, baby just say yes
Cut to a movie theater. A man with cold hands is sitting next to me and we are watching a film about disability that nobody understands because we are in Croatia and the movie is in French. He puts his hand on my bare leg. A woman walks into the theater wearing a scarlet colored bikini and she looks normal until she takes her leg off, throws it at the screen, and props her stump on the back of the chair in front of her, as if all along a different body had been waiting inside her regular body, watching and walking along just underneath the skin, suddenly bursting out when given an opportunity. Everyone is eating popcorn, jaws grinding, lips glittering with salt. All of the men suddenly disappear.
What world is this?
I hated public pools because they made me anxious. They still make me anxious. What to do with the leg? What about all the stares? There was that freakish body waiting to be revealed, another body inside the body that everybody assumed was mine. Fearing the reveal, the sense of exposure, the knowledge that you are set apart, the press of that void. And now Ronan, the way people look at him, whisper about him behind their hands, avert their eyes, wonder why he doesn’t walk or speak or see. In the grocery store I hope that nobody will ask me questions, that nobody will engage with this mom and her baby, that we can be, in somebody’s eyes if not our own, normal.
Sweet dreams are made of this, who am I to disagree
Before I came to Palm Springs Ronan and I drove from our home in Santa Fe to Wyoming to see my parents. On the way back to New Mexico, having just pulled out onto the interstate, heading south, I heard a buzzing sound. In the rearview mirror I saw a lean, yellow-and-black wasp bouncing around near the back window. Terrified, I pulled off at the next truck stop and tried to kill it: with Ronan’s favorite book (Fishy Tales), with a pen, with a shoe. I tried to coax him out by shouting, as if I might insult this insect out of my car. No luck. The wasp, tucked into the crease between the window and the car door, eyed me with his black pointed face, his slick body quivering, stinger pulsing and at the ready. My eye on the wasp, I carefully unstrapped Ronan from his car seat, my heart beating, hands shaking, strapped him into the front carrier, and marched across the parking lot to the diesel pumps. I’ve driven across country many times, most times with a dog or a parent, sometimes with a dog plus a parent, but much of the time on my own. I knew who could solve this problem, so I waited patiently (only about ten minutes) for a truck driver to arrive. “Hi,” I said brightly as this stranger, bleary-eyed and wearing wrinkled shorts, stepped out of his cab. Ronan let out an accompanying squawk. “Can you kill a wasp?” He could (with a napkin, in less than two seconds) and was happy to do so. “Got it,” he said, and proudly showed me the evidence, the wasp’s crushed face, his stinger lying limp and disarmed. The dead bug body thrown on the asphalt like a cheap jewel cast aside. I gushed appropriately, truly grateful. He didn’t ask me about Ronan – his age, why he looked so sleepy, if he was talking yet. He just helped us and moved on.
C’mon ride the train, and ride it. C’mon ride the train (it’s the choo choo train)
For part of that trip back to Santa Fe we were driving alongside a train, past abandoned buildings along the highway that looked as soft as construction paper, the doorways like wet and rotting mouths. I love driving alongside a moving train. It makes me feel as if I can outrun something – a feeling, a person, a situation, a mood. Ronan gurgled in the seat behind me. I thought forward months, years. I pictured myself standing in a grove of aspen trees, releasing his ashes into the air. I reached behind me and put my hand on his knee. In Palm Springs there is nothing to reach for except the bare bottoms jostling at the bar, stripes of sunburn visible beneath the swimsuit straps, words from a conversation that distract me momentarily from the blasting music.
“You know what? There’s another pool that’s less crowded.” “Is there drinks there, too?”
During the last hour of that drive to Santa Fe, Ronan started to scream – I watched the fat tears rolling down his face in the baby mirror. Four hours is his limit for amicability during car trips, and we were entering hour five. The wasp had us running late. “It’s okay, guy,” I said. I wanted him to see me, to listen and understand as I explained to him that I was sorry, and if he could just hold on a little bit longer we would be home very soon. If only that mirror reflected the baby that I sense is behind the other baby with movements and thoughts and a life story that is not dictated by Tay-Sachs, this one part of his genetics that trumps all others. In his body, behind the other baby, is this unaffected baby. I would make every kind of deal with the devil to have a glimpse of him.
I’d like to welcome everybody to the wild wild west
In Las Vegas, New Mexico, only an hour left on the journey, I sat in front of a mobile home/“antique” store (the stuff looked old and used-up rather than antique), and watched a few men drink beer in front of the gas station at 11 am. I fed Ronan in the driver’s seat, the sun combing through his eyelashes, fuzzing his blondish hair at the edges, warming the curls that are growing longer and bouncier at the back of his head. “The thing is,” I said to him, “I just don’t want you to die.” He slurped down his bottle and sat happily in my lap in a square of sunshine. “I love you,” I said. He looked at his hand and waved his fingers at himself, amused. The women at the Bikini Bar wave to one another, comb fingers through their hair, pull credit cards and cash from their swimming suit bands. The movement is effortless, easy.
You might as well face it you’re addicted to love
During that last hour in the car, I started crying, too. Who knows what we really see of the world? I have to believe we truly are “seeing through a glass, darkly” as St. Paul promised, that we will, one day, see things as they truly are. Which is what?
I like the way you work it (yo diggity)
Can you solve the problem of the body with the mind? Or is it this: having a body, being in the body, is like being roped to a sick cat. (Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride) What is the body without the mind? What does Ronan know of his body, these hands feet arms legs neck and face?
Scientists are searching for particles, according to the physicist who sat next to me on the shuttle to the airport on the way to Palm Springs two days ago, but they are named by people who don’t believe they’ll be discovered – names that are meant to sound like jokes, jeers. Up, Down. Truth and Beauty. These monikers are so catchy that when the particles are actually located, the scientists who’ve been diligently searching and believing in their existence are stuck with names created by nonbelievers. Says the physicist to the Russian translator sitting in the front seat: “Eventually mass, if it lives long enough, decides what kind of mass it wants to be.”
Dance the night away
If I wanted to, perhaps I could brazenly don a bikini and throw my leg to an inebriated middle-aged man with a paunch, a sunburn and a surgically enhanced wife, dive into the pool, and just trust that he would guard my 50,000 dollar piece of “durable medical equipment” with his life. I could touch the scar across my belly without wanting to go underwater and never come up. I could take Ronan with me. We could dive deeper and deeper and deeper and never come up.
Girl, your booty is so round
I have been practicing yoga with my hands down, pressed to the mat or the floor. We’re supposed to put our hands up in supplication, ready to accept what the universe has to offer. Frankly, I don’t want to know. Stay in the moment, we’re told. I wrangle with it – it’s all that Ronan knows, so I must stay there with him, but all I want to do is escape. I wish someone would sit next to me and buy me a drink. I’d change my name, my story, pretend to be somebody else.
Boom boom boom let me hear you say hey-oh, hey-oh
The first thing everyone notices when visiting Santa Fe is that everything is beige – the buildings, the ground, the land. The shuttle driver tells us that when he grew up on Fiesta Street – “on the wrong side of the arroyo” – the center of town was painted in bright colors – red and blue and yellow – and when the ordinance was put into place, everything “went brown.” He pauses, chuckles. “They thought it was a marketing tool, the uniformity. They painted over the colors.” Everyone is quiet. The road hums merrily beneath us. “Tay-Sachs is like a slow fade,” other parents have told me, as if a baby suddenly went from a mosaic of vibrant colors to a uniform brown. What does it mean? Palm Springs is full of fluffy green palm trees, imported from another country, a different land; beige land blooming with flamboyant flowers; hot sunsets fizzing at the horizon.
Hey now hey now hear what I say now happiness is just around the corner
“It will get better,” people say about the grief, about the loss of a child, but that doesn’t mean it will. It seems a uniquely American notion to believe that things can get better with hard work and a good attitude. The boot-strap myth for bodies. In Geneva I worked with a man from Liberia. The minute he arrived he was quarantined for six weeks with tuberculosis, and after a few short months working for us he returned home and was murdered. Things don’t always work out. Is it ridiculous and unfounded optimism to assume that they will (most babies are fine; most mothers don’t die in childbirth; most children live past the age of three)? Is it shortsighted and self-indulgent doom-and-gloom to think that they won’t?
You have my heart and soul oh oh oh
Weather floats like water, memory is like weather, all these ripple effects, all these atmospheric changes bumping into one another, creating disturbances, disconnect, serendipity, so then, finally – connection?
I want to be a victim; I’m ready for abduction.
I watch a man with gray hair and skin creased in delicate patterns fall asleep by the pool. The way his hair curls tightly at the nape of his neck reminds me of Ronan’s when we take him to the therapy pool. How many boys and teenagers and old men will I meet that remind me of my son? I want there to be another universe where he lives to be one of those boys who grows into one of those men who falls asleep and lets the New York Times fall over his hands gently, as if he were folding the paper like a blanket before setting it aside. His head nods over an advertisement of a woman wearing a great, square sparkling rock on her ring finger. Protests squelched in Iraq. The economy in Yemen on the verge of collapse. Soldiers killed in Pakistan. He’s tired out by all the bad news.
Can’t read my can’t read my oh you can’t read-a my poker face
“He won’t suffer.” This is what we’re told about Ronan’s condition. But there will be blindness, seizures, paralysis, deafness, death. He won’t be able to see or move. At some point he will not be able to swallow. All around me, all of these people drinking drinking drinking gin and cucumber tonics, strawberry vodka drinks, sweet mojitos, “signature” strawberry margaritas, pitchers of beer. His body will be in a state of insurrection. “Vegetative states” sounds like suffering to me. It feels like a betrayal.
Everybody throw your hands in the air
I don’t need three wishes, just one. I would watch my son grow up.
Don’t you want me, baby? Don’t you want me, ohhhhh
I’m always five minutes, maybe just five seconds behind that other baby, that boy, that man, that other body behind my own body that made Ronan’s body. Palm fronds sway soundlessly above my head.
The body, the body, the body. Why is it such a riddle? Why such a trap?
A sort of fairytale with you
I order another cosmopolitan and press my lips to the cool, sweet glass. I avoid looking at the old man snoozing by the pool, out of place with all these drunk and braying young people. I can’t want to cry into my lap each time I see someone who looks like someone Ronan might have become. Neon green towels are draped over the pool chairs. I finger my locket with a strand of my son’s hair literally locked inside. A silver box full of holy dirt hangs from the silk string around my neck. Somebody drags a little girl with a sagging ponytail past the Bikini Bar, she looks swollen and sunburned and miserable. Skinny or fat, paunchy or six-packed, round butt or no butt, enhancements or not, everyone by this pool at the base of these mountains will, someday, die. What a simple world that revolves around how you look in your bikini (hopefully hot) and whether or not the dude at the end of the bar is going to buy you a shot! Or is it? We are all complicated people moving through a complicated world – most of the time the world gives us easy solutions, simple answers, and other times it makes things more complicated, and the answers become more nuanced, harder to unravel.
Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel like you’re nothing less than perfect
Who knows what kind of matter we might become? Who can tell what shapes we might make with our bodies, our minds, our hearts? I hold my son’s body, the warm, solid weight of him. He opens his mouth and makes a sound like a dinosaur; sometimes he growls. Sometimes he squeals. He still smiles. He still laughs. I can happily claim him and he was given to me although he is not mine. Ronan, where are you going? Where will I go when you are gone? I would like to choose my afterlife. You would be the only person in it, the only living thing, the room bare-walled and stripped of all other post-life life.
Tonight through the thin walls between rooms I can hear girls discussing what to wear to the bar. They shout to one another over the howl of a hairdryer. I hear shoes hitting the floor – no, no, not those. Someone keeps knocking on their door and I keep calling out “Hello?” as if I’m expecting someone. A clatter of hangers in a closet. Squeals. These sounds of female intimacy are comforting to me, known to me, girls talking and putting on eyeliner and smoothing down skirts and trying to decide what to wear; girls talking to one another over shoulders, reaching over arms and laps for brushes and lotion, asking to borrow a purse, a jacket, a favorite pair of jeans, a particular tube of lipstick. Standing around, trying on a variety of looks, experimenting with the idea of having a different body through the clothes of a friend, asking do you think I should do this with my hair? before demonstrating the style, and the other girl might cock her head as she sits, perched on the edge of the bed or a chair, watching her friend in the body she knows and recognizes, that is unique to her, that is her in some way, or a part of her, trying to help her feel good in her skin, to feel good in the world, even if the world is as small as the poolside area around the Bikini Bar. Girls stepping into cool closets full of recognizable items (that’s her favorite $5 shirt from the thrift store; I’ve worn those skinny jeans; I gave her that blue scarf), rooting through suitcases, sorting through jewelry boxes and offering advice. Wear what makes you feel like you. That muted wonder of peering into a friend’s closet and helping them select clothes, an act almost as tender as dressing a child, and just as intimate. And then, out of nowhere, I don’t feel betrayed anymore, but unaccountably grateful. YOWZA, that looks good, one girl says to another. You look so good in that! Finally dressed, they slam the hotel door and parade by my room on their way to the Bikini Bar, the problems of their particular bodies, at least for tonight, solved.
Who knows what will happen to those girls? You are so cuuuute! What betrayals, bodily or otherwise, will these girls meet now, in the future, at another’s hands or maybe at their own? But as I open my door to watch them go, tripping down the hallway in their heels and short halter dresses and glossy, gleaming hair, I see one of them brush the hand of the other. The world of the beloved is always a small one, and it is often object-oriented – a lock of hair, a favorite shoe, a ring that was a gift – and sometimes it can be deciphered, decoded. The girl turns to the friend who touched her and smiles. Frank Sinatra croons from the speakers now: come fly with me.
And then, at the end of the hallway, under a faux-glass chandelier, her answering gesture reflected in the mirrors lining all of the resort corridors, this moment of magic, so clearly understood by any witness, so easy to decipher: the girl slings her bare arm around her friend’s gleaming shoulders and pulls her close.
I step back into my room to find a picture message from Ronan’s father. Ronan stands upright in his bouncer. There is spittle on his lip. I can see his rubber band wrist on the hand reaching out for his father’s face, his voice. His skin looks doughy and sweaty and familiar. The body: always a riddle to solve. Always, in some ways, a problem. And sometimes, to the person who loves that body so much more than her own, a gift.
by Rodney Nelson
ACTION DREAM THREE
an it or a they kneed your wind out
and drove your whole head to the concrete
you woke to the odor of gravel
a hurting zygomatic bone and
you had only cracked air to inhale
but there was some memory in it
of July to record in the leaf-
smoke autumn heat that you were down in
by Lydia Conklin
The first time we met was in a bar like a lounge in the back of a Chuck E. Cheese. With a card table sheathed in plastic and the kind of wall-to-wall carpeting that no matter how long you look at it you can’t tell if it’s gray or purple or blue. If it’s stained all over or if those are just shadows stuck in the wool. If it feels any softer on your feet than tile. Why it is even there, when all it can do is absorb spill after spill.
There wasn’t cake or Velveeta pizza or napkins with cartoons printed on them that night, even though it actually was a birthday party. There was beer for three dollars and local Bed Stuy boys trying to pick up the white girls who’d come for the DJ’s twenty-fourth.
At the time all my friends were either getting married or resigned to the fact that they never would, staying at home in apartments with granite bathtubs and track lighting they were straining to afford because they thought they could, should have nice things. At least by now.
You were different. You were out here off the C line, on a ten-degree weeknight. You were drinking like you had nothing to do tomorrow. The fact is, you probably didn’t.
You talked to me first out of anyone. You had blonde bangs shagging in your face and an outfit made of eighties children’s clothes. You had the body of a kid but skin that wasn’t quite smooth, like something had happened to it. Later I’d learn your alcoholic mother raised you in San Francisco, crying the whole time into her dinner. But I’d never really learn if you had money. You lived like you had something to prove, in a part of south Bushwick no one even walked through, eating ramen for breakfast, sipping a flask in expensive downtown bars.
You tried on my glasses. You said you liked my shirt. You said your friend who’s a lesbian got called a fag when she was walking in Long Island because she sort of had a moustache. I said that never happened to me. You were surprised I liked girls. I still didn’t know you were gay, not right away. You were still figuring it out.
Later we went on sort of a date. You took me to a bar in Greenpoint and we split beers and talked about Charles Manson. You leaned across the table.
“He made those girls kill,” you said. “He said find a house, and kill everyone inside. Kill the teenager in the car and kill the pregnant starlet. Kill the hairdresser and the coffee heiress. Stab them over and over and write with their blood on the walls.”
At the end of the date we almost kissed. You leaned on me drunk in McCarren Park. The Hasidic men were playing baseball even though it was past midnight. I just got out of a five-year thing and I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know things would evaporate so fast.
When I was in Sheep’s Head Bay one night, sitting in a hole dug by boys in the sand, you texted me. You called me Little Criminal. That was as close as it got.
In May, we went to the beach. You said a man on the subway screamed at you, and you were upset. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if you wanted me to be protective, or angry, or to hold you, so, like an idiot, I did nothing. We peeled leechees and walked into the ocean. When we were hundreds of feet from the shore but only up to our ankles we looked at the rides in Astroland that would be torn down the next summer. We didn’t want them to go. But at least they were there then, scaffolding climbing off the sand, throwing carts of children in arcs through the air. I’m glad they were still there then, at least.
by Lydia Conklin
I am a Goat
by Sasha Fletcher
this is why we can’t have nice things
I am going to build you an island and you are going to love it.
I am going to carve your face into a mountain.
I am going to buy you a present. It is a cat
and you are going to love it
or it will die and that will be all your fault
and you’ll feel terrible
and feeling terrible is really inconvenient. When you feel terrible
the bandits come and they live in your closet and at night
while you sleep they shoot you in the face and set your children on fire
and then they cut the skin off of everything you ever loved
and they nail it to your door in the shape of your sadness.
by Sasha Fletcher
a love story
I walked right up to her and said Hello,
I am a bank robber and this is a robbery
so please give me all the piles of money
in easy to carry bags. If you don’t
I’ll shoot you, and if you make a fuss
I’ll shoot you in the face,
and if you call the cops
then I’ll shoot your entire body so full of bullets
that all of your blood will flee your body
like orphans fleeing from an orphanage
that is burning to the ground
and the orphans are screaming because they are on fire
and then they too burn to the ground
right there, in front of the TV cameras.
If you’d like we could talk about our childhoods:
what the orphanage was like, how it looked
on fire, caved in, with the lights off
at sunset. We could go out for a cheeseburger
and pretend none of this ever happened,
and I could tell you a story
about a handsome man
who meets a beautiful woman
at a bank. In her spare time
she falls deliriously in love with him
and they start a family together
and soon they have five hundred children
who all die in a flood. The handsome man
tells the beautiful woman
that everything will be ok. He tells her
that they loved their children very much
and that even though all of their children are now dead
that doesn’t change their love. He tells her
she should really put all that money in bags
and then hand him those bags. Right now.
He says In two days you’ll find me
hiding in your bathroom
with a gun. He says I will tell you that your husband
is beginning to suspect something
and you will tell me that I am your husband
and immediately this will become true.
by Jon Steinhagen
The Stelladders have a nice living room and dining room facing the street. On the second floor, there is a master bedroom and a small study that can be a guest room if there is a guest, but they do not sit in any of their rooms looking out the windows at the boulder or at anything at all because to them the outside is a nice background and nothing else. This is how it is for them. The boulder weighs 570 tons and never bothered anybody until it moved.
The Lenape Indians who used to live in the region had a name for the boulder: Pamachapuka, stone from the sky. This was the only way they could explain its presence.
The Stelladders were grateful for it because it served as a good landmark for people trying to find the house. Just opposite the Pamachapuka. Then they had to explain, and it made them feel very local. It is a good thing for the children to play upon if they are careful but their children are growing up and do not bother with it anymore. It is also a good backdrop for family photographs which there are plenty of now in the photo albums. It is huge and amazing and haughty, and it moved.
The Lenape Indians who used to live here had no idea no concept of glaciers and how they once travelled all over the globe. That is why the Pamachapuka is here. It rolled over a glacier a long long long time ago.
I am certain it moved, the wife said.
Impossible, the husband said.
Look at it when you leave for the office.
I’ll look but I’m telling you it didn’t move nor did anybody move it nor could they.
I’m telling you it moved.
Then the husband pulled the car out of the garage and backed down the driveway and swung into the street. He looked at the gigantic boulder for quite some time because Mr. Vatocik drove up behind him in his pickup and waited for a little before he honked his horn. The husband returned to his driveway and Mr. Vatocik sped away.
It moved, the husband said when he went inside.
Told you, the wife said.
This upset them. They sat in their living room and thought about how to explain their discovery for a long great while.
How does something get to be where it is? Sometimes you will encounter something so alone in its otherness that you can only assign mystery to it. No matter where you are in time. These very big natural things things you encounter are beyond human strength even though we can pretty much do whatever we want in this era of oomph and conceit.
What I’m striving to say is: T.L. and I have been married for nearly five years next week and I’m fairly certain she’s made a discovery but is keeping it from me or keeping it to herself which is the same thing but not entirely. The question is why she would do something like that? I’ll return to this.
The Stelladders thought long and hard into the afternoon. The wife became concerned that the husband hadn’t gone to the office or called in and they hadn’t been answering the telephone.
If the Pamachapuka didn’t move that means we did, the wife said.
Impossible, the husband said. Stop calling it that.
What should I call it?
What it is – a big heavy rock.
When something that size moves there’s usually a sound or it leaves a trail around its base, like the earth being shuffled. There’s no trail and we heard nothing.
I suppose the same goes for our house.
So there’s no evidence of us moving and no evidence of the boulder moving.
But it moved.
You should call the office.
The Stelladders were unhappy because they did not have an any answers. Their children came home from school.
Who moved the rock? they asked. The wife readied dinner.
The Lenape Indians consider a Pamachapuka a gift from above. It is a big rock where there are no other rocks and so it is very very special and anything that special must have a meaning and purpose. Early settlers in the region used the Pamachapuka as a mile marker and a signpost. Natives and intruders judged their existence in relationship to the Pamachapuka. A more modern scientific term for Pamachapuka is erratic. Erratics can be found everywhere.
T.L. and I perhaps need to spend some time apart. We work together and sometimes it is a wonderful and convenient thing to have married a fellow scientist and that way there is always something to talk about at dinner. We do things the old fashioned way and in that way we are now considered somewhat retro by colleagues but we are careful and the only way to be careful is to do things the old-fashioned way and then put everything into a computer.
T.L. and I work with the sun.
We have an observatory at the top of the house and in the morning we fix the telescope and open the end not pointing to the heavens and we get our pencils and pens and start drawing the images of the sun on large paper. We are Carringtons in this respect and I don’t want to get too technical but in essence we are on the lookout for another solar superstorm like the one Richard Carrington tracked in 1859. This has little to do with the deep down of T.L. and I at this point.
Drawings are clearer than photographs and always have been. People pay us for all of this. T.L. defers to me on shading and I defer to her on diametry. We are complementary is what I’m striving to illustrate and work together independently at the same time and because of this it is impossible for her to make a discovery without me making the discovery as well.
But she has.
The Stelladders’ eating is at first secondary to their contemplation of either the Pamachapuka or themselves in motion without leaving a trail. It is a fact that the quietly inexplicable can put one off one’s food although the children suffered no ill effects and in fact asked for seconds which they received and then thirds. The Stelladders think it would have been preferable if the wife had only imagined it. The husband wishes his wife would not have drawn his attention to the phenomenon.
Let’s not say anything about this to anyone, the husband said.
If we noticed it and the children noticed it then other people will notice it, the wife said.
Well so what if they do it’s not our fault.
Maybe that’s what it is a hidden fault somewhere rolled it a little or us a little.
So now you’re a scientist.
Don’t snap at me.
Well then let the whole world notice it noticing things doesn’t explain them.
Maybe we should call off the bridge party tomorrow night.
T.L. and I listen to our favorite classics while we work and she’s partial to amateur composers like Borodin who was a chemist and Carpenter who was a businessman while I am partial to the composers who couldn’t do anything except compose like Bach and Beethoven and Mozart and a whole bunch of other big names. I mention this because T.L. is now taking a shine to my music as this morning she asked for a partita and I obliged. She has discovered something I haven’t and she is not telling me. I construct a list of reasons why T.L. would do this:
T.L. does not want to become famous all by herself because she loves me.
T.L. could tell everyone that we both discovered what she discovered because she loves me.
T.L. is waiting to see if I will discover what she has discovered because she loves me.
T.L. has made a major minor discovery or a minor major discovery which means that either way no one’s life is threatened by or dependent on it and so she can afford to keep it to herself until bringing it to my attention. This has nothing to do with her loving me.
It has everything to do with patience.
It has everything to do with having one up on me so that if at some future point I behave in a way that she does not like she can remind me of my imperfection as a human being and a scientist by revealing her discovery.
This doesn’t sit well with me.
If I made a discovery that T.L. didn’t make I would tell her immediately because I love her.
Or do I?
Why do I tell her anything?
When the Lenape Indians put their hands on the Pamachapuka they felt a heavy vibration coming up from the Earth and into the stone and that is why they left it alone.
The Stelladders did not cancel the bridge party and the Alts enjoyed the cocktails and the cheese and pimento loaf shaped like a four of spades and the bowl of little snacky things. The Alts did not notice that the pamachapuka had moved or that the Stelladders had moved. The husbands in fact got a little high on the martinis and one wife had to drive her husband home and the other had to shoulder hers up to bed.
They spoke over breakfast.
I’m still trying to figure out how you knew it had moved, the husband said.
Something felt off, the wife said.
With the rock.
And that made you look outside.
I just happened to glance over when I brought in the milk and the paper.
I’m still trying to figure out how the kids knew it had moved.
If you’re trying to say it’s only my imagination and the only reason you see it as well is because my power of suggestion is strong…
Not so loud I’ve got a head on.
The Alts didn’t notice it.
Thank God for that.
So the noticing is limited to us to our family the four of us.
Or so it seems thus far.
What does that say about us.
I don’t know what you’re implying now let’s forget it and how’s about some more coffee.
T.L. doesn’t need to encourage me to talk about anything that is on my mind because that is something that goes unspoken. I could come right out and ask her, but I know how the conversation would go.
Have you discovered something without telling me?
Have you discovered something without telling me?
T.L. is very matter-of-factual in that if a question asked requires a simple affirmative or negative she will supply the simple answer and go no further. Her comeback is always: You asked me a yes or no question and I provided the appropriate answer. This is what gets me. How am I to know that she did indeed provide the appropriate answer? T.L. is very good at debating the meaning of appropriate and by very good I mean she doesn’t tire as quickly as me. I won’t ask her right out because she will think I’ve become a suspicious and we need to work together beautifully as we always have the many years married and not that we have loved each other.
When the Lenape Indians figured out that they weren’t wanted in the region anymore they left. To take the Pamachapuka with them would have been impossible. Their horses were strong but all of them together could not have moved the erratic stone, which had fallen from the sky for a reason and its reason was not to be altered by anyone.
College kids did it, the wife said.
There’s not a college around here for miles, the husband said.
This is not my fault.
Well don’t make it mine.
T.L. is humming along with the Bach now and she is very happy.
Each day you will look at things differently than you did the day before and not because you planned to. I am referring to the erratic outside our house. I am looking at it and thinking why in this era of strength and certainty has nobody moved it to take advantage of the land. Perhaps it is the cost of moving such a monolith even though I have no idea what the cost of such a prospect would be. I don’t want to move it. It lends a certain timelessness to the neighborhood even though the neighborhood is just our house and the street and the forest preserve behind the erratic. It reminds me that it was here millions of years before T.L. and I and will likely be here millions of years after T.L. and I are gone, although even that is not so certain in this era of convenience and ability.
You’ve been all morning staring at that rock, T.L. says.
I wonder who discovered it, I say.
Impossible to know.
Because it’s so old.
Because it has nothing to do with us.
So you’re saying things like that are never discovered they just always are.
It moved once a long long long time ago and it won’t likely ever move again.
A glacier moved it.
Well then a glacier will move it again someday now are you going to do any work this morning or is it all up to me?
The Stelladders are last seen in front of their house. The husband pounds a wooden FOR SALE sign into the lawn and the wife pulls up her grandmother’s rosebushes and the children are off playing somewhere.
T.L. is very good at what she does and no matter what she does I can’t explain her I can’t explain why I’m still here doing the same things alongside her and converting her to my composers and I will likely never figure out what she is keeping from me, or if she is indeed keeping anything from me.
The glacier melts. The boulder rests. Some winged creature too new to be named sees the boulder and it alights on it and while this massive rock will not make an excellent home it does make a nice place to rest for now.