The Third Day, Rock
(I‘m going to click record now—don’t worry, this is no virus, it will just need to be saved for posterity to one day re-render this moment for Isis to revitalize us. Whether you or I are destined to be princess or a pauper, a phantom or a fashionista, or a young blind black vole-faced boy with magpie wings soldered to his scapulae or a magpie who dreams in noise, this message will be preserved and shared. Please begin by pressing play.)
Like a whale
Swallows you whole
— CocoRosie, Poison
— Jeronathon breaches the sediment of the Hollow Cave with determined fist. The chorus of infantalized seraphs hover out of gunshot but not earshot, taunting His own self-accusing frustration, knees squishing deep in the oozing starfish shrapnel and shell debris of tidal battles. With arm fully extended, He can feel the edges of the mud-sunken jewel with the tips of His fingers. Gently, now… Gently!
A Degas print of doom-clustered ballerinas catches her eye. She has trouble securely lifting it up by its plastic sheath from the milk crate to show me, but I can’t keep from looking at the inartfully scrawled marker headings chalk-outlining apocryphal divisions of masterwork — and ‘Rennaissance’ is over ’n’ed. She throws her Crimson Weight shawl over her shoulder and presents it to me, as if, what? Shall I get this for you, too, Maxxie?
“I’ve always wanted this one since I was a little girl. I took ballet for…” Her cheeks dimple as she tightly sucks in a thoughtful breath, both eyes caught upwards in the tapestry of the pop-up canvas tent. “Six years? Seems too long, but my favorite memories of home were dancing for my aunt and uncle.
“Maxxie, what right do they have to even be at an art fair, if they can’t even keep it straight, Bosch is not a Dutch Master, and…”
“No, what right do you have to speak to the world out loud that way?” She looks at me, quizzingly. “Yeah. So there.” She taps a finger of her purple lace cycling gloves on one of the bent waifs in the back, leg tossed over the studio barre, “This one was me. Right here.” The child’s bound toe points woefully to the corner shadows, stretching, elongated, engorging across the studio floor prowling to devour unsuspecting corralled music stands at the other side of the painting. I’d never noticed the mirror before, which imperfectly recalls the activity on its far wall. Time was darting in reverse along with the impressionist light — children were caught shivering in the cold of the pole, their metabolisms so slowed that they were watching themselves from the vantage of adulthood, blotting over unconjured memories solidified in oil. Do not demand the paint brush to resolve more precision than its width.
That was Van Gogh’s greatest trick — to give such credibility to the brush, by breaking the fourth wall to allow the audience to actually see the trails of a lunar smear bespoke by crude human failing. It wasn’t an old woman’s eyes that cataracted the glow, it was man’s potent incompetence. Prior to that, only in scrupulous and magnified studies, with eyes that penetrate deeper than perusal, could one see the colorful quantum glue that binds the wavering canvas to the ochre pigments to the popping linseed to the sable’s hair to the dented tin to the smooth alder to the tint-calloused tips of a craftman’s tortured hand guided by a demented mind.
“It’s not really like you to be hiding your ‘ever-so-kissable’ face from the spotlight that way.” It feels like decades now since she pressed her hotel key heavy into my hand — the tip of a melody yellow nail grazes my palm, scintillating. Astonished then, astonished now. Maybe even more astonished now that she still wants to be with me.
She grabs the lapels of my woolen peacoat and presses close, then tilts back, shaking out her leopard mane, baying, ‘Kiss me, sailor. Just kiss me.’
Just like she’s done before. And just like I will, every time.
“Eddie, you just never halt, do you? Such a Card 2.0. But you sure are right, sailor!” she goads in an old radio announcer’s staccato.
I smile and wink and nod. “I’ll get it for you.”
As always, we will take our kitschy spoils and lay out a picnic in the green quad behind Davis Square amidst the acorns and their squirrely predators. Maxxie won’t eat anything but ham sandwiches when she’s this close to home out of affectionate habit. Mayonnaise, American cheese, wheat bread with the crusts removed with pinches. I’m not hungry, but crack an ironic Moxie and cover the air in the scent of bitter sarsaparilla.
“This is near to Harvard, but with far more joie de vivre, at least at this point in time. My father used to tell us about his teenage ‘wild escapades’ of midnight bowling and sneaking cigarettes in the alleyway. Of how he met Mom in a long-gone pub… I guess I always wanted to visit it, or we wouldn’t be here, would we, Eddie?”
She leans into me for forgiveness between bites of sandwich. The schinken wafts across our brusts.<¡— Error: Remit for review—!>
“I think it’s wonderful that you brought me here.” In placing my arm around her, her warmth wends like a blanket around me. It isn’t hard to elevate one moment above another, even if they pell-mell crash up against one another, leaving full bailing buckets in their wake carried off by aging sailors as tenderly as if they were dead babies, resignation pasted all over their grimacing miens as they drown in an ocean of their own grief.
But the body suffocated by Neptune’s dreams and trampled by the hooves of his sea horse calvary experiences a frigidity even colder than this one and these nerves. I can’t wait to be rid of them. Just focus on her warmth and the cinnamon in her shawl.
“Isis, give us twilight.” At the behest, the sky morphs fluidly to a distant pinkish burn tossing a cool compress of shadow over the green. Frosted globes suspended on unvandalized brick columns illuminate the pathway. Pizzeria workers share a smoke near a dumpster and sneak paranoid glances at passing cars turning on headlights to deftly wend the narrow, winding one-way streets. Early evening strollers with their infants in plastic prams and summer mint chocolate ice cream cones dripping over sticky fingers, joggers panting sporting reflective harnesses to restrain them from incident, cyclists by the score, students, commuters, drifters, elderly white women pushing wheelchairs laden with catatonic husband, elderly Asian women balancing bushels of groceries through inattentive walkmanned youths safety-pinned into their jackets and jeans to get to the bus doors before the close, artists and other strange familiars populate the space around us, our privacy protected by the supplanted faces of foreboding statues gargoyle-menacing the crowds away from our picnic paradise. I squeeze her shoulder, and plumb her countenance to see if she might offer a kiss.
“Well, aren’t you the feisty fox, Eddie? What’s a girl to think?” She harumphs a snicker while watching the evening bustle and burrows into me as if I were a blanket.
“I think it’s beautiful. I’m glad you brought us here.” Maxxie expresses a stiffness to her spine as she pulls away to sit up straight, looking for something off in the distance, leaving behind in me a forlorn and hollow impression just under my left breast.
She turns to me. “Can you shut off your filter, Eddie? I want to hear your real voice.”
“I — Hold on, my… real voice? Auf Deutsch, meinst du?”
A smile broadens her features. “Yes, like that. Before we have to go.”
I am clumsy and oafish in this borrowed body, but as I sing an old salon favorite, Maxxie’s eyes drown beautifully together with mine. She never wavers her delight or her gaze as I gather her small, precious hands and contain them until the final, Bitte, geh’ nicht fort.
“Did you understand this?”
“How lovely and doleful. Your singing is exquisite.” Her compliments do not suit me, and I start to redden, yet the more I try to disguise my shame, the hotter my face gets. She takes gracious pity on me and changes the direction of conversation. “I didn’t understand a word. Expect for: full, bitter and lied.”
In response, I overdo a laugh, and struggle through English. “Ha! It is Marlene Dietrich, it means: please do not go from me. They say she is singing to beg her fatherland not to fall to the sick ideas of the Nazis.”
“Woof! That’s pretty severe, Ditte.” She delightful mispronounces my name in her bubblegum tongue, and I adore it.
“I do not mean it so…heavy. Just that I wish we could stay like this forever.” To which she cocks her head as if receiving a system message.
“Dammit, as if on cue, I need to be running, Ditte.” She grunts as she uses me as leverage to stand up. “These old bones, I tell you.” Perhaps it is nervous energy that spurs her to smooth out her dandelion print dress.
I get up so that she can grab the lapels of my peacoat the way I desire, and shake out her leopard mane, even more bright red and brilliant in the meme than today’s actual speckled sugar ginger hair to proclaim to the clouds, ‘Kiss me, sailor. Just kiss me.’
Just like she’s done before. And just like I will, every time.
“Feel ya’ for real ya’, someday, dear. Smooches.” She’s waited for the loop to finish before she blows me a kiss, and I’m forced by the system to blink while she vanishes as incredulously as the magician’s assistant into the wild thin air as she’s turned off her interface.
Can you hear that? It’s father, he’s still coughing across the hall. I don’t think we saw it, but the doctor was connected earlier, and it’s concerned. I think he’s scared. No, I know he’s scared. I am. I am, too. I wish I could go in there and tell him how much I care for him, how much he means to me, but… well, I guess that’s what this is for, isn’t it? Ultimately, what all this is for? To take an eternity to remind ourselves of our loves and our fears? And what’s truly important. Father used to call it: To make the bed you will lie in. This is the house that I build so this is the house I built. I hope it will protect all of us from the cold, cold nights ahead. Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight, I love you all.
(Well, with that done, it’s just us left here. Let us lie back on our queen beds in catafalque comfort, you and I.
Did you forget, my dear reader, that all stories are ultimately written only for two? There is me, and there is you. Not some fictitious, omniscient you, but the real, corporeal literal You who is reading this right now. I can wish that this weren’t such a unilateral conversation, me trapped here inside the armor of words — which only leaves me more vulnerable — with no way to break out of irons but for: exactly like this. If only I could afford you my ear to hear your tales, your thoughts, your beliefs, not because I am unwilling, but because, as only being these words right now, I’ve never been taught to hear. How would I even begin? For I imagine it ought begin with silence.
Even in moments of attentive silence, there is nothing more the residual rain of a once-proud hurricane. And your words are as lost to me as the sound of my story on the tongue of the voice in your mind. Alien, unfamiliar, but beautiful, for certain. Would that my words were truly a flood of who I am, but I shan’t torment you with the stanzas of the poet who pens for themselves alone.
So let us finish stealing an otherwise unsuspecting moment from this incredible secret space we share, two minds having thought the same things for a short while, and looked further inside to recognize one another hidden there. And thank you, for this moment that is half-suspended in time for an eternity.
And whether or not that moment was special, it is now past gone.)
Whether the hand thrust in mud is hungry for a rock from mineral malnutrition or is saving the planet to place it back on Atlas’ plans for domination, Jeronathon exhumes a rock from the core of the molting earth and holds it high over His head, cackling.