Tuesday, August 10, 2004

an intriguing piece of fiction

She’s filing her nails now, she’s dying her hair now, she feels deadened somehow, she feels the boundaries between her live cells and the ones that no longer feel. Her hair, like straw now, a garish wig, a caricature of punk rock, a stereotype atop her scalp. She forgets for the moment how she loves this new transformation, how she loved it in the salon, the burgundy hair, and new stylish cut, the way she loved the balance of her own body parts. She felt then like there was nothing but forward movement, and then she saw a photograph of his face from their recent trip and there was nothing but the harsh truth that beyond the beard and the beauty she isn’t sure of anything. She doesn’t know beyond her own body, and it’s what she doesn’t know, what she must guess at, that affects her most acutely. She wants to articulate somehow and make change (that is always her way) but this time she has no idea how. She isn’t afraid, she just feels that her words have been used too often, that she is both tired of them and also an amateur at using them. She is tired of this, tired of everything.

This isn’t the way she is. It can’t be. There is music playing, there is a beautiful garden outside (delphinium, poppies, currants, carrots, echinacea, willow, squash) and her mother just took her to town to dye her hair, there were white clouds and the blue sky to enchant on the drive home, there are people she is fond of to call back with messages, but there is a veneer to all this. She sits on the porch (can’t take the thinking that unpacking groceries requires, the practical aspects, what goes where and what is in her fridge) and stares hard at the face of this feeling, which is blank and isn’t letting her in. She walks across the lawn with bare feet, hoping to stimulate something. She doesn’t know the words that will unlock her from right here.

She will go into town later this evening and visit a friend. She knows how to act, she’s been taught well, how to laugh and get along and report news, put a hot cup of tea in her hand and you have the Cape Breton way, the talking, the kitchen choreography. She knows how to show off her new hair and tilt her body just so she still has power but announces her 20-year-old elastic sexiness at the same time. She is still sane. Vulnerable, and adroitly human, but sane, and this brings a measure of comfort.

She has a book to read, a love story, and when the characters are happy she wants to cry and when they are sad and second-guessing their love she wants to cry. Too true, too true. Maybe next she’ll read a Harlequin, true escape. Nothing real about those, nothing that enchants you with its reality but also shows the darling fleetingness of, well, everything.

Her mother talks to the kittens. The two new bumbling bundles of fur and bones, named Ginger and Garou, precocious and precious and easily stumbled over. They stand so close their whole bodies are touching and purr in unison as they eat from the same metal bowl of dry cat food, their little mouths and teeth crunching. The two older cats are used to them now, but she imagines it was a difficult transition for them. Her mother’s house fills with plants and movies and books and baskets of wool (that turn into socks for loved ones), and cats and laundry, food and children. Things the levels of which are in constant flux, bags brought in and out the door in a merry-go-round she imagines as part of a comedy, a Chaplin film.

August isn’t potent this time around. They all awoke to 7º Celsius, everyone reaching for sweaters and thinking they wanted tea, and across the valley from the shop she works in, she thinks she sees trees changing color. There are still parties to have and dinners outdoors, roams and ranging and river-running. But the air has bite and warns them: soon your summer hours are gone. Soon it will be time to think of turnips.

She is able to access her old self through looking at her cupboards. Care again, she tells herself, about pretty things, about good books and words arranged artfully. Care again, about what you eat for supper tonight. About letters arriving in the mail. Leave those fantasies alone and forget that you care what someone else might be feeling. These placations she wants to rage against, lose face, be the crying fool that makes her shamed. Why? Because the root of such things is not something you can hold in your hand. She is used to proving things, to being held to scrutiny, her own the most intense. Can a wordless thing, a feeling, her gut, can it be as durable, durable enough? We tell ourselves it is nothing, it can be talked away, like mincing words will melt the surface, like a lit match to wax. These are lies, lies which we think when we believe will save us, but in reality they are poison and imprisoning.

There will be phone calls, for the short term, and time alone which she intuitively feels is necessary, and music and using her own voice to soothe and calm herself, using songs that are familiar. She is glad in her heart for singing, it brings her to a part of herself she can access no other way. There will be bicycle rides and haymaking, when she will feel strong and happy in the sun, helping. In the long term, vague shapes of things to come, things that have come and gone in people’s lives since forever: babies, death, love, tea. Forward movement, and stagnation. Both necessary for the existence of the other. And she will articulate, and make change, and bring an understanding to someone else of her own feelings, her own gut. She knows not everything is easily resolved, and she feels terribly the condition of being no more than a collection of bones and water and brains, feels it where her scalp meets her colored hair follicles, feels it in her reaction to this morning’s sunrise: rapture, at the new way sunshine had devised to enter between birches.

She will take a shower, wet down the hairspray that thickens her hairdo, feel cleaned, a bit. She has a small amount of Sambuca that she might sip later, from a shot glass, over an ice cube, and use to bind her past self to the present, a chemical reaction. She will allow information to enter her mind through the contrivance of ink on paper, and subtly change, without resistance. That is the best she can do. She needs time to become brave and then she needs to know when her words are ripest for handing over. Look at these words, she imagines herself saying, I picked them for you. Such beauties, and fresh too.

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