Joseph R. Trombatore
Salvador Dali, 1936
This is scene 19, take 28:
All 3 understudies have walked off the set
taking the chairs with them
for moral support, & a Vitaphone audition.
The cocktail glasses have been edgy
all day, & on the verge of falling
The script has been underlined, revised,
red inked, used to swat flies; thrown
when the cameraman ran out of film.
The director likes his daily rushes with his
coffee; long hand rolled imported smokes,
but the projectionist has a brunette
on his mind. Duck for dinner,
an elegant parquet floor; flickering prisms
His voice is sore from screaming.
The backdrop artist paints mountains
like bags of rotted oranges;
a beached canoe where Jean Harlow
a camel, instead of Clark Gable.
Bits of colored crayons on paper, chip
& flake; no one’s here long enough
for dialect, dictation; or even a decent tan.
The Muse Gets Mad
I am writing in reference to my recent job interview. I just wanted to inform you that
I am TRYING to live a reasonable, sensible, sane life here so I don’t appreciate you playing any games with me! Don’t interviewees get callbacks anymore? Let me assure you that I’m TRYING HARD not to call you.
If I can’t completely put my compulsions out of my mind, perhaps I can tie them up in a dusty corner somewhere – just watch them wriggle and struggle for awhile while I wait to hear from you.
I wonder if once in awhile you wonder what I’m thinking about, or wonder if I’m thinking of you? I wonder if you ever think of me at all?! Forgive this little aside, Sir, but its spring, and I’m feeling a little…pink. It’s been many months
Do you remember the pulverulence of butterfly wings? Have you ever touched soft, silky things that fly? And why haven’t you gotten back to me and what did you think of my credentials after all that nice chit chat we had?
Do you know there are violets quivering just beneath the surface of the dark earth, getting ready to push tiny purple ballerinas up into view, up onto a vast, green sweeping stage of grass? If you could only see them the way I see them!
They’d dance in the wind for you, Sir.
There appears to be a few torn stitches at the edge of the sky. I’d like to just reach up and slip through to whatever is stored back there. I want to slip through to that place and then stitch the sky up behind me, using myself as thread of course, because there is so much hidden there-different colored stripes of sunset in a kind of cold storage behind black trees…and there’s God too, and sleepy unborn babies and countless other magical things.
Did you ever wonder about all the Mysterious People you’ve never met, but could? Strangers with good hearts? Or old ghosts, even?
You know, I’m beginning to suspect you haven’t even read my resume! I’ve been practicing my craft for over four decades now, would you believe that?! I’ve got PLENTY of experience, let me tell YOU, Sir!
Enough said, there’s work to be done. Being reasonable, sensible, and sane is absolutely paramount during the workweek, you know. After five on Friday, anything goes, but for now, we must remain level-headed.
At this point, I guess I have to accept that you have found other help. If, however, you are aware of any other employers who are in need of the services of an out-of-work Muse, please refer them to me at your earliest convenience.
I Remain Somewhat Respectfully Yours,
Sona Lea Dombourian
Mom clicked on her turn light before hanging left on Elms Street to go downtown for new sandals. We passed the single building that held Summersville elementary and middle schools, then homes. Cars stood idle in driveways near empty lawns. Pink flamingos hovered on toothpick-thin legs that peeped above roses that drank in the sunshine. It poured into the car, toasting the small hairs on my right arm into a shiny orange-blue.
We neared an empty wooden stand on the corner. A sign hung over it that read “Fresh, cool lemonade—35 cents.”
When we stopped at the red light, I peeled an arm off my ribcage and pointed at it. “Could we have some?”
She looked to her right, then her lower lip dropped open. My jaw clacked shut when two classmates of mine, Melissa and Jen, not very pleasant ones, emerged from behind the stand, just a few feet away from my door. Mellisa’d always ask me when I’d be getting a bra while everyone changed after gym class in the girls’ room, then Jen would answer that I needed to wait another year before thinking of buying one. I raised my arm beside the window so they wouldn’t see me, and watched them from the corner of my eyes.
Either the two of them didn’t know how to dress or didn’t care. Their shorts slid below the elastic bands of their underwear, while their bellybuttons inched up their midsections as they waved their arms at us, yelling “Lemonade. Nice, cool lemonade.” When Melissa stuck her chin out at me like she recognized me, I slid two inches down my seat.
She put her hand up to her mouth and turned to Jen, who found cups behind the wooden counter. She bent down to arrange them, making her cheeks hang slightly out of her purple shorts, then turned around and faced us. I felt a line of sweat trickle behind my ear then down my throat and looked at Mom. Her lower jaw still hung open when the light turned green.
Just as we passed them, the girls lifted their cardboard signs yelling “fresh and cool!” The round bulbs beneath their shirts shook like rock-hard baby oranges on a branch. I was happy my top covered all of me, even if it clung like cellophane.
Mom’s lips pinched themselves beige while we drove in silence for a couple blocks, passing our church, All Saints, some diners and the local supermarket. When we got downtown, shops lined the streets with bronze parking meters in front of each. Old women in white straw hats stood gazing into windows.
She slowed down, making the brakes screech faintly beneath us until we stopped in front of a store. The words “Miss Ellis’ Apparel” were set in butter yellow against a purple background. Half Off! signs hung inside and out of the shop. She folded her hands on her lap and looked out over the dash at a young woman pushing a stroller. Her lips were plump again, almost a moist raspberry pink color and little beads of sweat clung to the skin above her upper lip. Her small crucifix blazed against her chest.
“Were those girls classmates?”
“Do you know them well?”
She raised her right elbow on her seat, turned to me and cleared her throat. “Do they always dress like that?”
I thought it best not to tell her that they’d both been sent home the week before last for wearing less and nodded.
“Hmmm.” She used the tone she always did when she wanted to let me know she wasn’t pleased with what she heard, but didn’t want to say why, hoping I’d figure out on my own. She turned back to the stroller. “I don’t have to tell you why the way those girls were dressed is wrong, do I?”
“Nope.” I used my thumbnail to remove the bit of dirt from under my pinkie.
“They’re bound to get the type of attention no lady wants. Boys’ll think things about them they shouldn’t, and they might even act out on them.”
I didn’t mention how on Monday mornings Melissa, Jen, and the rest of her goons would line up against their lockers in the hallway, talking about what they’d done with boys on the weekend, not even bothering to cover their mouths while their cheeks burst red. It sounded like they didn’t much mind the attention they’d been getting, even after the boys made sure to give their version of things by lunch.
I nodded then looked down at my nails. “You’d think they were selling something other than lemonade.”
Mom’s lips pressed together, then her cheeks rose just slightly, like she wanted to laugh but knew she shouldn’t. She turned the rearview mirror onto herself. “I’ll be just a minute. I want to see what they have on sale here before we get us both some new sandals at Clark’s.”
I put my hands in my pocket and jingled my coins. “Can I get some ice cream while I wait for you?”
“Sure, Baby.” She patted the curls that peeped out of her bun back into place as she looked at herself in the mirror. “Come and find me when you’re done.”
Once I got out of the car, a wall of wet heat hit me in the face. The sweat that had gathered on my scalp in the car rolled down beside my ears and my hair suddenly felt heavy against my shoulders. The smell of freshly laid tar rose up into my nostrils.
“Look for some shade while you wait for me, too,” she said, shielding her eyes with her hand. “Don’t get yourself cooked out in the sun.”
“Uhuh,” I said, walking down Elms Street as I made my way to the ice cream shop. I had seventy-five cents, enough for two scoops—extra if I smiled wide enough. After I paid the cashier, I stepped past a man with a newspaper flattened against his ribcage. He leaned on the stucco wall of the cigar shop and used the men in short sleeves across him for shade. I sat on the curb with my back against the fire hydrant in front of them.
Cars rolled by lazily as I pulled marshmallows off my scoops with the tip of my tongue. I caught an almond in between my teeth as I knocked off my sandals then crossed my feet, dangling my cooked soles off the curb. Soot from the newly repaved street clung to my toes. The smell of tar was thick and strong, like the cigars Dad’s friends would leave behind after playing poker Sunday nights, mixed with the coffee grinds Mom would toss them out with when she found them the next morning. I couldn’t taste the chocolate either, but the cool was nice against my tongue.
Someone whistled from the other side of the street. I turned and scraped my ear against my chocolate scoop then wiped it clean, craning my neck to see who it was. I could hear click, click, click, click on the cement sidewalk coming my way. The men in front of the barber shop turned their heads; their spines suddenly stiffened. It was Ms. Hodkins, the mayor’s wife, moving our way with a bounce. When she hopped over the man hole, all the men’s eyes skipped with her.
Their mouths were partly open as she got closer, as if they were pleased and pained at the same time. Miss Hodkins looked right at them, and smiled wide, while the rest of her swayed in sideways S’s, letting the men lap her all up as she came up behind me to the curb of the sidewalk.
She stood with her toes just over the edge. Her tan heels were so high and pointy, I pictured her getting sucked down into the street made soft by the heat once she stepped down. I turned my head to see what she was looking at: a man with dark blond hair in a polo shirt and blue khakis standing across the street, smiling wide after pursing his lips like he was going to whistle again. The sunlight off his gold buckle hit me in the eyes when he raised a hand to wave at her.
Miss Hodkins descended from the curb, her heels quiet against the pavement as she strode right up to the center of the street. A blue Chevy screeched to a stop, spitting out small stones from beneath its tires while she stood over the white dividing line. The engine hummed at her side, sending waves through her flowing white cotton dress, but she didn’t turn her head once to look at the driver. She put her right hand on her hip near the red belt that cinched her waist.
“Hi, Johnnie,” she said, loud enough for everyone on the block to hear. Her voice was deep, not like a man’s, but you could call it husky. If my ice cream was chocolate, her voice sounded like chocolate fudge with caramel coating, thick and rich, with the slightest touch of velvet.
“You be sure to call Mr. Hodkins for that interview we talked about,” she told him, but everybody on the block was turned to her like she had been speaking to them. Her hair had more gold in it under the sun, with strands flat as flax on her shoulders that shimmered when she moved her head.
“I will, Miss Hunn—.“ But then he stopped. His lips parted, showing teeth that gleamed almost as much as his belt buckle. Then, his tongue slipped lightly onto his lower teeth. “I will, Ms. Hodkins.”
“Don’t you forget now, ‘kay?”
“Uhuh.” He raised his hand and waved, then put it against his mouth like he needed to cough. “Thanks again.”
The men at the doorway near the blond man grinned. When Ms. Hodkins turned around, the sunlight against her back created a dark outline around her body. Then, just as I thought her red lipstick looked especially deep, I could see why everyone’s eyes were on her: Ms. Hodkins had no bra on.
I turned my eyes away, suddenly embarrassed for her, then looked down at the chocolate droppings sprinkled on the sidewalk. I wondered why a woman would offer herself up to the men the way Hodkins did. With the time she took slinking up the street, she made it clear she wanted as many looks as she could get, not minding one bit that the men looked at her like she was a thing. And with how wide she smiled, it seemed she liked being the thing that pleasured them. I got to thinking of how Mom explained gifts, not just the bit about the inside mattering more than the outside, but what she said about presents with colorful wrapping paper and shiny ribbons that you really didn’t need: It all might look good, but it would get put aside once it served its purpose. Did Ms. Hodkins not mind getting ignored after giving herself away like Melissa and her pack after letting the boys have their fun?
As Ms. Hodkins clicked in her heels down the sidewalk, I realized how Mom moved like her, but different at the same time. When Mom walked, she’d jiggle up on top, but her bottom swayed, almost swooshed from side to side. Most times, when she passed by a group of men, a sudden hush would come over them. They’d turn their heads together, like an invisible hand screwed them her way. If not, their eyes would move inside their heads to follow her. But none of them smiled at her the way they did at Ms. Hodkins. Mom never looked back at them, either. With the way she turned away, never meeting their eyes with hers, but never lowering them either, it seemed she was denying them herself. And with how they’d bend their heads together and get back to what they’d been talking about, they understood they oughtn’t have been looking at her in the first place.
I licked the last of my chocolate ice cream and crunched the waffle cone down to a nub as I walked over to Miss Ellis’ Apparel. The door to the store clicked open, throwing a waft of cold air my way. Mom stepped forward with a large lavender plastic bag in her hand. Her hair suddenly had auburn highlights from the sunlight.
“Genie, what on earth have you been up to? I’ve been waiting for nearly twenty minutes.” Before I could say anything, her eyes turned down to my white shorts.
I looked to find dark brown polka dots splattered on my clothes and thighs. “It’s just ice cream.”
“And it’s all over you, Baby,” she said as she stepped towards the drinking fountain on the sidewalk. She put her bag down, then pulled out some tissue from her purse and held it underneath the spout while her lips pursed into an open “o.”
I followed her and pushed down on the button, getting only a squirt out. “Mom, I’ll take care of it,” I said, reaching for the tissue.
“Keep it coming. You look like you got chocolate chips sprinkled all over your shorts.”
Two elderly ladies holding umbrellas with lace trim passed by, watching us. I pulled my voice into a whisper just as she started to wipe the stains on my thighs. “I got it, Mom.”
“Well, do it then. We got things to do.”
The small, dark brown spots bled into larger beige ones as I scrubbed. Tiny rolls of wet tissue fell silently onto the ground.
“I’ll have to soak those,” she said, turning onto the street. “Let’s get moving so we can get home in time to start dinner. Dad’ll be home early from his trip tonight.”
I walked behind her several paces, passing the library then the flower shop, holding her bag, swinging it over and around my wrist. I had to stop when it got caught on my watch in front of the sports supply store. Mom clicked against the pavement ahead of me as I studied their new display. Wooden bats tied with red ribbons stood upright against a cardboard background like candy canes in front of a gingerbread house. I dropped to one knee to retie the strap around my ankle, looking at the guards nestled into each other behind a crescent of softballs, then lifted my head to see how far Mom had gone. I couldn’t see much with the sun in my eyes, but then I recognized her from the sway of her hips one block down. I stood up and ran to catch up to her.
The mirror inside the barber shop showed men with silver and white beards lying on chairs that tilted back. Others, with freshly buzzed heads, leaned against the frame of the doorway. They dropped their eyes slightly from Mom’s face to her body, then turned to watch her as she passed them. All of her went left then right, then back to left, her steps so long and the wiggle so deep it almost made me seasick. By the time I got up the block, the men stood with their backs to me.
Mom looked over one shoulder then the other. When she turned around, everyone’s eyes dropped to the ground.
“Genie! What are you up to? We got things to do.”
The men stuck their hands in their pockets or turned to watch the lone car coming down Duchaine Street. One adjusted his glasses. When Mom opened the door to Clark’s Shoe Store, she waited for me to step inside first. The door jingled behind us, then she bent close to my ear and put a hand over her mouth.
“Baby, don’t ever idle like that in front of men.” She turned her head just slightly to the window then straightened her shoulders. “You want strangers staring at you?”
“Then why were you hanging out like you have nothing but time on your hands?”
“I was looking for you.”
“Well, now that you found me, you stick close.”
Aisles burst with shoes in every color and style I’d ever seen: white, beige, and black, heeled or flat, with straps or without, in leather, plastic or canvas on top of boxes that stood about hip-level. Rows stretched from near the entrance to the back of the store, where shades lightened to pastel purple, pink and blue, then translucent with sparkles. Flip-flops with flowers and fuzzy-headed slippers lined the three walls.
A man appeared near the counter, stealthily, I thought at first, then I realized he blended into the wall behind him; both were the color of brown sugar. He wore light beige khakis that looked off-white against his dark skin and a button-up striped shirt that fit him too snug around the chest and arms. He shoved his hands into his pockets and stood looking at Mom, silent like the men outside, but with his thick, kinky brown hair that wound up closely to his scalp, he looked to be in his twenties. I stepped up from behind Mom so he’d see me, and thought his eyes were as bright as amber just before he turned his head to follow her as she moved down one aisle.
“Afternoon, Ma’am,” he said suddenly in a deep voice that was as thick as molasses. He coughed, then added “We have a number of sandals on sale today, from strapless to heels.”
Mom looked at him and smiled. “I’ll let you know which I like in a bit.” She took a few steps back towards me and laid her left hand on my shoulder, then pulled on the long white cloth straps around her ankles and passed her espadrilles to me—the same routine whenever we’d go anywhere to get me things since she always had to look for stuff for herself. Even without her shoes, she was two inches taller than me.
I settled into a chair near the door, tied the straps together and hung them off my knee. It would take Mom at least an hour trying on a heap of sandals to take only one pair home, and me maybe ten minutes, so I eased back into my seat, figuring I’d find some when she made her last round in the store. With how big her eyes got, full and round like stuffed olives when she saw a pair with leather pink straps, an orange bow tie and small pointy heels, I knew we’d probably be there the rest of the afternoon.
I folded my fingers into my palm, then chewed on my right pinkie’s cuticle, looking at the clerk watching Mom walk slowly down the aisle with her back to him and a sandal hanging on her forefinger. She shifted her weight from left to right, moving with enough of a wave to set the hem of her skirt flapping lightly as she stepped. Her hips didn’t sway nearly as much as they did outside, but with the rows on both sides of her hips, her waist seemed extra narrow, especially in the orange top she had on that stretched from her neckline down to the dark blue jean skirt that went over her knees.
The clerk’s face slowly turned pink, like he was thinking something, but knew better than to think aloud. Small nubs appeared below his cheeks, the way they do when you clench your jaws, then he turned to his clipboard on the counter, picked up a pencil, and stood so still, I could barely tell he was breathing.
I moved her espadrilles over to my other knee, and started on the nails on my other hand. I wondered why Mom would go through so much trouble finding shoes she liked if she didn’t want men looking at her in the first place, especially since they would make heads turn on her faster. But then, Mom really never took pains to look pretty. The only make-up she ever wore was lipstick, and only at special places, like baptisms or weddings, and she barely did a thing with her hair. It tumbled in huge brown waves around her face and shoulders, like the neighborhood wives tried to get theirs after wrapping it around pastel green curlers they covered with handkerchiefs when they watered the grass in the morning. Mom always wore hers in a bun high on her head, the curls spilling out by afternoon, and the only time she let it down was when we’d go out to dinner with Dad or at his business parties. And then, when she wore a dress, she’d stand so close to him with his hand on the small of her back the whole time, it looking so natural a fit that when it wasn’t there, she looked naked. And yet, here, she walked up the aisle, deciding between shoes that would make the men double back when she passed by. Going down the aisle, tapping her finger faster against her lips as she neared a pair of heeled sandals, then turning back at another, she was a kid in a candy store who wanted to taste everything inside, unable to decide which to try first, never lifting her head even once to look at the clerk who watched her with his mouth open just wide enough to show the bubblegum pink of his tongue.
If Mom and Miss Hodkins swayed the same, and that’s how they both got attention, there must have been something else in Miss Hodkins’ jiggle that brought the men’s eyes her way. With how she watched them look at her, she invited the looks. But with the way her dark cherry lips peeled apart over snow-white teeth, she made herself into walking dessert, willing to let anyone who came her way get at least a spoonful.
Mom, though, looked ahead like no one had stepped aside when the men parted like the Red Sea, and seemed blind to the fact that they watched her as she passed. And their mouths would be part open, as if they had forgotten what they would say to her if she by chance looked back at them. Sometimes there was even a wrinkle in their brow, like they were afraid they’d make her angry just standing there beside her. They were dumb as mannequins when they first saw her, a glimmer rising like a flame in their eyes, then vanishing as soon as she stepped past them.
I crossed my arms over my chest, thinking how the clerk watched Mom different from other black men who always got busy looking down at the ground when a white woman passed by. They didn’t ever seem to do it out of rudeness, but to show respect almost, as if looking away from her was better than looking at her. Sometimes they melted into the wall or tree they stood up against, becoming a part of either, so much that you couldn’t really see them if you didn’t know they were there in the first place. And if by chance a white man passed nearby at the same time, the black men would move quickly away, like ghosts passing through, without so much as a bump until they vanished out of sight. But this clerk had intent—of the sort no man had ever shown in public at Mom.
For a second, his eyes flashed on me like the few times that had happened in the last year when Mom wasn’t with me since I was an invisible if she was anywhere nearby. And all of him—all of that man he bundled up around Mom—was directed at me. Did he see that I looked like Mom, at least a little, or maybe that I had some of the woman in me that she was completely? Something started to fill me up, make me feel more important in that moment, like I never had felt before, as if I mattered. It must have been how Melissa felt when she’d cross paths with the older boys at school who’d glance back at her—and she’d look at me, her head blown up like a volcanic zit, like she had something over me, especially when they would whistle, even when everyone in school knew how desperate she was for the attention.
When Mom made her way to the seat beside me with a sandal strap dangling off each of her index fingers, the clerk turned his eyes onto his clipboard. She looked at the stitching in the tongue of one sandal, sat down, then crossed her legs. For a second, I thought of getting fitted into the heavy metal foot-measurer before picking out sandals since Mom finally made a tour around the store, but figured that was something the clerk ought to bring me himself. The minute Mom lay her sandal on her thigh, he clicked our way and came down on one knee right in front of her.
His black wingtip touched Mom’s left pinkie just slightly. The sheen on his shoe was as bright as the clear nail polish on her toe. He crossed his arms over his knee and tilted his head towards her. The muscles in his neck were taut like the ones in his forearm, but raised above the flesh; they crisscrossed each other, like stitches in a heavy weave. He touched her baby-pink heel that hung mid-air with his forefinger, then ran it along the arch of her foot.
Mom jerked back, then pulled her shoulders into her seat. Her face went blank, white as a canvas like the times I’d said something I shouldn’t have in public, and her lips flattened into thin pieces of clay, draining the fleshy pink. She stared at him, her eyes glazing over like no one was huddled at her feet. A curl slipped over her eyes, but she didn’t bother moving it. Instead she raised her left hand a few inches in front of his face with the sandal swaying on it like a hammock in the wind.
“I’d like these in a nine.”
He looked at a spot far away, intently like it was important, with one knee mid-air, the other raised just an inch above the floor, crouched and unmovable for a whole minute. A line pressed between his eyebrows. He took the shoe in his enormous hand; the mound of flesh below his thumb swallowed the heel as he stood up. Then he walked down the center of the store, his heels clicking against the tiles until he disappeared behind a curtain.
Mom sat with her arms crossed over her breasts. She pushed the curl out of her eye as her cheeks flushed dark pink like overripe watermelon flesh. Then she pulled her espadrilles by their cloth strings off my legs and stood up, grabbing the bag beside her. It crinkled loud when she strode to the door.
I got up to follow her, flapping sandals beneath my heels. Once I reached the door, it jingled shut on my face, then barely missed my wrist when it snapped close behind me again. Near the entrance of the store, Mom bent down to tie her shoes in a rough knot around her ankles, then she started down the street. I rubbed my knee, crisscrossed with pink-white lines left behind by Mom’s shoes as I followed behind her, wondering why I was trying to act like it didn’t hurt that the clerk touched her instead of me, why he fixed his eyes on her after looking at me.
The sun dipped into heavy clouds, round and whipped like marshmallows that bathed the empty streets in a hazy orange. Sooty footprints covered the cement. A crumpled newspaper clung to the inside of a trashcan, its corner flapping lazily against the metal net frame in the hot breeze. A trickle rolled from the nape of my neck down inside my shirt, prickling my skin as it moved; my palms were suddenly moist. I wiped them on my shorts.
My heel sank into warm, oozy gum; long, feathery strings pulled along the cement with each step as I passed the barber, then the cigar shops. Mom swung her bag like a briefcase, her calves hardening then turning soft with every step. I ran up to her with the straps on my sandals trailing behind me.
“Mom, what about my sandals?”
“We’ll go somewhere else for them.”
Her laces were grey from velvety tar dust, and hung loose around her ankles, like ribbons on a doll’s hair that started to unravel. One slipped off her heel completely—right where the clerk had touched her like she was his, when she’d always made it clear she didn’t want that sort of attention. And yet she got more of it than Ms. Hodkins who’d been advertising herself, and more than me when I wanted more than a second’s glance, as if to make certain that I was more woman than most could tell, or at least was on my way to becoming one soon.
I wanted her to tell me herself why the clerk touched her was wrong, why it made her angry, maybe too why she wished she’d never come looking for sandals with bright colors and bows and heels that would make men look at her. I wanted her to explain why only Dad could get the look the clerk had on his face—the look Dad would give her at night, after dinner when they thought I wasn’t nearby, just before he’d hold her, soft at first, with room enough between their chests to fit a baby between them, then closer like the times I’d see if I stepped in on them later, her body pulled in so close, Dad made her a part of him.
At some point after they’d met, Dad must have given her the look, watched her with the same hope strangers had, might have even let her know what he was thinking without telling her, but only he got to be with her. She must have liked the look, might even have returned it to let him know he could come near. What was there about Dad that made him different? Why did she let him have all of her to himself?
She looked straight ahead as she walked, her curls slipping over her neck, then falling over her shoulders like a shawl. Her steps were silent, but I could feel the ground shake beneath me.
“Because I said so.”
“But you never explained why.”
I wanted to hear how playing safe wasn’t enough for some women, but too how some attention was better than none—that it beat being invisible. If the boys tried to take what they wanted from me when it wasn’t theirs for the taking, that meant there at least was something that made me desirable. Then I could say no—which had as much weight as yes if a boy really liked a girl since he wasn’t going to give up asking. But when I stopped to tie my scratched leather straps and lifted my head, Mom crossed the street a full block ahead of me, stepping into the clouds dusted with silver powder. And she pulled further away, the bag colliding with her knee at each step, her hips tight as a boy’s.
Jason “Juice” Hardung
BIG PRETTY EYES
She was from New York
I told her she had
big pretty eyes
and she said I had
big pretty poems.
I’d rather have the eyes
they get you farther.
This other lady from Los Angeles said,
Your poetry shows
your ambivalence over the opposite sex
and how they dominate and
mystify you- it’s a
self feeding misogyny.
So I grabbed a dictionary
and figured out she meant-
I hate women.
I wanted to tell her
and the rest of them
I was sorry
I hate men too
and hoped she would
but she took off
before I was able
and then she came over
i could never date you
just look at your nails
the way they are bitten down
to the skin
the flesh around the cuticles
red and enflamed
like you have an infection
it looks like you bite your cuticles too
and look at that nail
the skin is black and blue underneath it
and that one there looks like it’s dead
is that dried puss?
your thumb nail is bleeding
and your middle nail on your
right hand is cracked
you eat them don’t you?
i never see you spit out the nails
that you bite
no i could never date you
i could never date a guy like you
with bad nails
i just couldn’t
i couldn’t imagine you eating food
or touching me
putting your hands down my panties
inside me with those ugly nails
it’s a sign of bad hygiene and it makes me
wonder what else is wrong with you.
then she walked away from me
and went over to someone else.
i looked at my nails
i didn’t think they looked so bad
then i picked my nose
flicked a green booger
dug my underwear out of my ass
and tried to feel good about the fact
that someone was thinking about me
in the first place.
I press my forehead against cool glass and listen to the bus murmur things I want to hear.
I can take you away, away, away.
A washed out world rushes past; grey streets and buildings enclosed by a frosted glass sky. A stray dog stands on the corner. A shopping cart lies broken and abandoned in a snow bank.
Away, away, away.
The bus stops, but no one gets on or off. I close my eyes and listen to the murmur begin again.
At the last stop I push to my feet and step out into the monochrome city. The murmurs will tell their lies to someone else. I will fade and blend into the grey.
One for the Road
I accept the offer with reluctance and drink the enormous tequila shot in sync with the drunken tourist who orders it for me. I don’t normally drink tequila, ever since the public debauchery, pervasive car crashes, naked blackouts, and arguments with cretin vagrants made it difficult for me to stay in control. The bartender is speaking perfect English, while I’m working on a post Christmas cerveza binge. The female tourist sits across the bar and smiles as I file another few Noche Buenas into the briefcase of my stomach.
I finally decide to reciprocate her offer and order another couple tequila shots. She accepts, but with trepidation and much less enthusiasm than before, which makes me immediately regret the gesture. Embarrassment festers in my mouth like an infected cold sore. The vile liquid tastes like fire. I often admire the local gringos who bath in tequila every afternoon at Tanga Tanga–talking, smoking cigarettes and wasting away the hours of each day in the lazy comfortable shade like a demented coffin maker convention waiting for the wonderful call from heaven.
I bid goodbye to Rips and begin walking out into the night—a horrific vision of an apparition with way too much tequila and holiday brew broiling in his gut. Leaving Plaza Mariachis and the delicious smell of fish tacos mixed in with humongous burritos simmering from the grill of Taco Loco, I walk into the night. I get about seven yards before the familiar gentlemen’s club pushers begin to offer the lusty lascivious intoxication of the naked ladies inside.
“You want to look at the ladies?” he asks.
I’ve heard that about a hundred times in Cabo, and probably a dozen by the same man. It’s like a malignant cancer that you can’t escape from because it always discovers you on the streets every evening to demand a lonely meeting with the sweat-glistening flesh of the other sex.
“Claro que no compa,” I answer.
I’ve never understood why anyone would pay to look at naked ladies, but maybe I’m crazy and capable of things beyond just paying exorbitant amounts of money to sit with a bunch of tourists in a smutty and salacious club. The men continue with the fallacious accusations and exaggerations of the beauty inside.
“But everybody wants to look at naked ladies…que onda? You want to come and look at the beautiful young girls, right?”
“Gracias, no soy tourista, pero gracias–no voy pagar un centavo ver chicas desnudas, nada, nunca…the naked ladies pay to see me.”
“Oh, ok–ahhh ok,” they say. They turn away to concentrate on the next guys walking down the street minding their own business. They never say anything to the ladies. You can almost hear crickets chirping when a woman walks past, then back to annoying the males. They actually happily stand out on the streets and do this all night long.
I make it around another corner and am no longer even going to look them in the face the next time they decide to ask me about the girls. I can see them waiting for me, like a bunch of sharks who can taste blood in the water. They’re hungry for my money, and there’s nothing I can do to avoid them.
“Hey buddy, you want to look at the beautiful women?” they ask.
“Estoy bien compa,” I tell them. “No tengo tiempo ahorita, y puedo ver chicas desnud—”
Something suddenly stabs me in the head, just above my right eye. It’s a street sign and I just walked right into the sharp edge and cut an inch of flesh from my face. I wipe the blood on my t-shirt, dabbing the cut since the blood’s not gushing at all, even though the wound is very deep, and probably could use a few stitches.
Even as I mutilate my face trying to avoid the losers on the street, I can’t escape their incessant gibberish. At least this time they stop talking about naked ladies. Maybe my blood would stain the beautiful bodies.
“You’re cut,” one of them says, as if I hadn’t noticed.
“You’re bleeding,” says another.
He sounds sincere, even though I can’t help but feel like he got his pound of flesh out of me. I probably left my skin on the street sign.
“Estoy bien, es nada,” I say calmly.
More than two years have passed since this event. If I could go back and change anything—take back the scar or the pain of looking like a monster for a few months after putting so much peroxide on the cut I bleached one eyebrow orange, I would not change a single thing. My wound has healed, but the scar will always remind me of the molestos en la calle. Next time I intend to hit the street sign so damn hard it nearly decapitates me, because there’s so much more to Los Cabos than hearing about naked ladies.
– LIFT –
Take the chance, only
1 time enter @ their risk,
stance the glance, on an
escalation in the smoke-
Believe you might push
some buttons for the stoic-
staid gluttins rising
to the plummetop.
Some swap ‘n go, don’cha know?
readied with a clenched-
fist/smile…today, the ladder…
Obversed, a face to
the crowd, stiles them a
lift, as pained as a toddler’s
pushing buttons, in
the shaft (Whrrrrrr…), Rudi’s here at
least to entresol
To call out the pinched,
glasnost, Sure starts to
widgets fidget to smooothjaz,
yet none pipe-up from
downstares… ‘cept Tony
(Flaco?) the Pizzaguy… guise
one-&-all & all-
know? Idly stairin’
not into the gemeinschaft,
But them what stop not
@ every floor or miss the
No Exit door &
never see? Sarte’ly.
Up/down into the cave’nous.
Rudi’s gone, the buzz
lingers, on the tips
of tapped-toes now in the cozed
repose, chute!… (WhrrrrrrWhrrrrrr…)