Monday, December 17, 2012

The Long and Short of It

I wrote each one of these a number of winters ago.

Snow / No Hummingbirds

Finally, the refrigerator motor shuts off and the loudest sound is one I make myself by circling my thumbs around each other. I don’t realize I’m doing this until I try to identify the sound and, by the process of elimination — since there are no hummingbirds in the apartment, no rustling leaves — I figure it out. 
It’s been snowing all day. The last car went by hours ago and the tire tracks are filled in. Only two people pass, a man and a woman, walking down the middle of the street instead of on the sidewalk. I watch from the window: the woman, in a pale trench coat and high leather boots, holds a black umbrella over her head; the man wears a hooded jacket and lumbers beside her. They pass my house, then the fire station’s parking lot, the pretty house with the stained glass windows, the health club, and the abandoned storefront. They don’t appear to be talking to each other but I can’t be sure. 
I go back to my chair, and the novel I don’t yet care about, and realize too late that I should have changed into warmer socks. I am too lazy to get up again. The refrigerator has started to hum again and the fire department’s generator just kicked in.

hour after hour
at the window —
yes, it is still snowing

Queen of Hearts

On our way home from dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant, Blue and I find three playing cards face-down on the sidewalk near our house. Blue turns them over, one by one, as we try to guess what’s on the other side. They are the seven of clubs, three of spades and Queen of Hearts. We didn’t guess a single one right, though we both wanted to say Queen of Hearts but were embarrassed to be that corny. I'm superstitious and don’t want to bring the cards into the house. I hold them by their corners and carry them to the nearby mailbox, leaving them face-down on the rounded top for someone else to discover. By the next day they are gone. But later that week, coming out of a different restaurant, we see another card, the Jack of Clubs, face-up on the street. We step over it.

hurrying past
the fortune-teller’s window
I stumble

For Luck

The scarf she gave me is rather shocking. Orange, red, light blue, dark blue, shades of green. But not a smidgen of brown and the absence of purple is nearly palpable. More to the point: where is the black? Nothing I own, or have ever owned, has been this colorful. It’s alarming. But also, strangely magnetic. 

I wear the scarf when I’m alone in the apartment, waiting for water to boil, or squinting over a book in the fading afternoon light. I don’t have the courage or the humor to wear it in front of anyone else. It wraps twice around my neck, is soft against my cheeks, and when I inhale I’m brought right back to that childhood bedroom at the end of the long, dark hallway. Did I have a baby blanket that felt like this?

for luck —
a red thread
hangs from the crib 

Tipping Over

The bath water is hot and scented with lavender. I bring the latest issue of The New Yorker into the tub with me, along with a plastic yellow duck. Blue’s sister has sent it all the way from Illinois. We’re not sure who it was meant for, there is no note, but since I’m the only one who takes baths I claim it for myself. 

Sliding low into the tub I set the duck to float. It keeps tipping over onto its side, instead. 

It’s a disturbing sight, this capsized yellow chunk of plastic, bobbing around in the pale purple water. I put it on the ledge next to a bottle of shampoo and read an article about Western vs. Eastern concepts of time. Later, Blue will say the duck’s bottom is too small, it has no sense of balance.

After the bath I crawl into bed, burrow beneath the comforter, the flannel sheets warm against my cold skin. I sleep for three hours. It is the middle of the afternoon and I am not sick. I have no excuse at all.

waking from a deep sleep
all is changed —
winter solstice


I am worried about my brain. In the past few days I’ve lost a good pair of leather gloves and my favorite beret. I made scheduling errors, not once, but twice. There are long pauses as I try to retrieve once-familiar words and just this morning I called the cat by my sweetheart’s name.
I’d blame it on exhaustion, but I’ve been on vacation for six days now and have done little more than sleep, read, go to the movies and soak in the tub. Maybe it’s entropy. I used to know what that means but at the moment I can’t remember, so it is either an appropriate or a foolish thing to have written and I’m not sure which.
If anyone described this situation to me I’d be quick to advise: “Don’t worry, your circuits are overloaded, you need to shut down for a while.” Blue offers similar advice to me. She says “It’s like you’re stuck between two radio stations.” That’s exactly how I feel: static-y. Out of sync and out of whack.  
I woke early this morning and for a second, in the rare and welcome stillness, I wasn’t sure where I was. Then I remembered and said, out loud, “Okay.”

than yesterday

Amazons and Battle-Axes

I’ve been thinking about mailmen I used to know. The pudgy one who left his lit cigar on the front step before handing over a dozen or more publishers’ catalogs, acting as though the bookstore smelled bad to him. The tall, unshaven one, carelessly dropping the mail on my desk before heading to the jewelry display case, drawn daily to the silver and bronze labryses, and always with the same comment: “I should buy one of these things for my mother-in-law, she’s a real battle-axe.” The one with the long blond ponytail and the small gold hoop hanging from his left earlobe. The one who wore shorts all winter; the one with the bad back and the chipped front tooth; the forgetful one; the complaining one. The ones who didn’t like to walk through the front door and the few who didn’t want to ever leave. 
The bookstore has been closed for almost 20 years. The labryses are gone. I collect carvings of Kwan Yin now, the goddess of compassion. Today is New Year's Day. All the mailmen are at home.

thoughts of mailmen
and Amazons —
snow falls