Monday, February 14, 2011

the wrong side of a one-way street

Verna just hasn’t been the same since that magician hypnotized her at the Marfan Syndrome fundraiser in July. She sees red chairs when she should be seeing pink ones. She sees white chairs too, but that’s with her eyes closed. I would qualify this, but the presenting of specific facts makes for only more of a conundrum, and this, after all, is what I’m, these days at least, trying to, in a sense, preclude. Not that I want to befuddle anyone or be accused of obfuscating matters for my own personal satisfaction. There are bows to be tied around this thing, and, from what I can gather, one to two ways or a few others will do to shed a slice of light on it.

I sent my regards to the Laundromat. They came back bleached and tumble-dried. I hardly recognized them. The way they were folded made me feel almost super, but not quite.

For some time now I have felt like a car with its turn signal left on, and the car keeps going straight and not turning. Also, I have realized of late that I’ve come to prefer looking forward to things rather than having those things I’m looking forward to actually happen. This doesn’t please Verna in the slightest. But that’s decent of her, for she senses my gut instincts better than I do, and she prefers being bored to being pleased or excited by something. Somehow, we manage.

In the mornings it’s come to liverwurst pancakes smothered in horseradish. We have pickles on the side instead of toast. Sometimes I spread butter on the pickles just to remind my senses of what it was like to have things the way they were before. The clock, pensive and deliberate in its ticking (not to mention its tocking), pats our dreams on the back while they’re still melting away from us. Verna cranes her neck to catch a glimpse of the mailman through the front door’s rose-tinted glass. I pluck my nose hair and set it gingerly on the morning paper, which I, very noticeably, do not read at all. We sometimes grab each other’s earlobes to see how cold they are. This is done while seated.

The garage door opens and closes on its own. There is no pattern to it. We hardly know when it will occur, but when it does, well, let’s just say that it’s almost a magnanimous occurrence. Around these parts, well, that’s special. I want to leave the thing unplugged and roll the door up manually when we need to drive the car somewhere, but Verna is staunchly opposed to this. She has come to hate unplugging of any kind. She tells me the moon has changed its color, that it is now Isabelline when previously it had in various phases of its cycle been old lace, expired half-and-half, seashell, pale magnolia, whipped-cream-on-dusty-curtains, ghost white, tapioca, cereal-soaked milk, cotton, cow udder, and shiny silver dollar. I am afraid of unjustly upsetting her. The vacuum’s been plugged in for weeks.

The hypnotist-- a swarthy, barrel-chested man with a squarish head of thick, chestnut hair who reminded me of an odd-toed ungulate-- warned us that Verna may suffer from some relapse effects, and that things like being hypnotized for the first time can tend to linger in one’s psyche long after the deed is done. We were aware of some small chances we were taking, but the benefits seemed to far outweigh any pernicious side-effects that would result, like her not being able to tell the difference between crocodile soup and alligator stew. What we were not expecting was for her to start using initialisms like FYI in her sentences, or for the act of showering to become inconsequential. I try not to hate her a little more all the time, but it is becoming difficult.

Verna has taken to leaving me notes on scraps of butcher paper around the house. She uses crayons. Her favorites seem to be Raw Umber and Atomic Tangerine. The notes say things like, “I love you dearly. Stay away from me constantly.” “Bring flowers to the lawnmower.” “You are awake.” “There’s a picture of us arm-in-arm on Catalina taken fifteen years ago. I used to know where it was. Now I remember that day better. It was hot. Your hair was sandy.” “Board the car on the left. I will not be waiting.” “I keep walking towards you. Keep walking the other way, my love.” “Quarrelling is for sissies and assholes. Miss me so I won’t have to keep missing you.” “Go to bed.” Sometimes she draws stick-figure pictures to go along with them. I collect them in my sock drawer, under my socks.

I stand in our bedroom on the four-poster where Verna will no longer lie with me. I pull the shades. I turn off all the lights. I grab a fire extinguisher from the closet, hold it up above my head with both hands, run in place, and pretend that I’m running for my life. Verna knocks on the door and asks if I am in need of a spatula. I don’t respond. In the contest to see who can be the kindest we are both losing. I can hear her breathing. She says, “I will light myself on fire but only if you promise to extinguish the flames before my fingernails melt.” I keep running. The sound of pelicans snoring and skateboard wheels rattling over the street are all that I attempt to listen to, and after a while I don’t hear Verna breathing anymore. This is as it should be.

On weekday evenings I often catch Verna whispering to the carpet, down on all fours like somebody weeding a garden. She’s minding her own business; that’s fine and dandy with me; but it’s just the boysenberry jam slopped through her hair that makes me feel like an oven that’s been left on low heat overnight with a jar of mayonnaise inside. I snoop, slyly painting myself up against the wall, and try to overhear her esoteric mumbling. It’s no use. What she is saying is incomprehensible and for the carpet’s ears only. Her lips are so close to the Berber that I sometimes wonder if they might sneak a kiss or two. Her backside wiggles back and forth. Her back arches. The toes of her bare feet dig into the loop pile, crunching and cracking, clenching and releasing, finding definition in the thick, coarse, curls. I make a wish on the tines of an old dream’s silverware. Nobody takes me home.

There are criminals in our neighborhood. They break into dollhouses and loot wig factories. They run from the cops while hurling jelly doughnuts at them. Verna says the criminals have her respect, as they are loud but not obnoxious, and they hardly make unnecessary motions. Sitting idle becomes them. They attack guard dogs and chuck spare change at traffic. The criminals don’t worry about mealtime; they don’t make a salary; nobody’s ever accused them of naming names; and there is more common decency among them than in The United Nations. Verna wishes they would ride horses and rob banks. I figure there’s a heart-shaped gesture in there somewhere. As it stands, until further notice, plodding through the purgatory of life as we’ll never know it, we leave the doors unlocked. Timing is beyond either of our capacities.

“Tell me again what singing you started to tell me about a day without gum or coffee.”

She sings it.

“I don’t have any more responses left in me.”

“Worth living!” She is shouting now. “Is it? Is it worth living a day? Without? Without gum or coffee? Gum or coffee! A day without gum or coffee is not really a day at all!” It’s not singing. But it’s close.

“I know you.”

“Used to.”

“Know who?”



“What? Who?”

“Nothing. Nobody.”

This was a conversation we had while we were lying on the grass in the backyard one afternoon while a blimp was hovering overhead. I remember how the sky looked. It was fringed with lace. It was herringbone clouds. It was splotch of sun, orange and blurry. It was smashed violet Jujubes and a clutter of grape skins. It was humped and worn-out. I wanted to shoot the blimp from the sky with a bow and arrow. I held Verna’s small hand as I thought about this. She didn’t hold mine back.

If I knew now what that hypnotist at the Marfan fundraiser knew then, well, I’d at least know what to expect next, and last for that matter. Verna has acquired a heavy German accent, and keeps ending her always incomplete sentences with, “…while I’m still alive and kicking.” It’s, fortunately, something that I, under the circumstances, presently, have come to understand.

Late at night, while the crickets crepitate each to each from the wall’s dead spots and I tumble 180s under the sheets, I think back to those times when Verna still didn’t utter collapsible syllables, when she’d offer to teach me parakeet hymns and would tie my shoes to a loaf of bread. Those are the times I’ll keep, not these ones of the lost-cartilage failures of understanding.

Peace quiets the airy loot of our place-specific sense of loss. I will the oilbirds of what we’ve got to the dust-gray clouds, and somehow the someday of what I used to only know in bits and pieces into the mouths of spoonbills.

I tell Verna that we’re going out tonight, and that she’d better wear that red dress, the one I used to like so well. Her mouth goes ovate. I tell her that I know a place where the dancing’s free. She scratches her ear and winks at me, clutching a baseball in her left hand, rolling it around a bit with her fingers in the palm, getting ready to be somebody. I stand there, leaning against the pantry door, pondering the difference between the there of here and here’s there that’s always there even when here’s not. Distance evades me. I am not moving towards or away from her. Verna, as always, is calling the shots; she turns the whisky of me into water. Tonight I drive the milk truck of my past into the cement wall of my future. Don’t ask for me at the door. I’ll be gone before the dew hits the flowers in the morning. Settling, like punching seven numbers into a phone, is out of the question.