Saying Not Saying

onfim 8 b mod 1

This is how you make it stay still.

This is the part where you pick up a piece of paper and inspect it to see if there’s writing on it. This is a thing you do, it’s part of the part.

You want to know what everything says, that’s what you’d say if someone asked you, but no one will ever ask you, no one ever asks you anything, no one even listens now when you talk, so you’ve given up on saying.

But if someone did ask you something and then actually listened, you would say this, you would say I want to know what everything says, and so the one thing you would say that someone might listen to would be untrue because you don’t want to know what everything says–everything is too much saying and not enough said, there is entirely too much saying, nothing ever gets finished because there’s so much saying saying saying, uncontained promiscuous saying, it snakes into your house from work, it snakes out of everybody’s house out into the street, it’s wrapped around everybody’s head, the air so thick with saying you can hardly breathe, such a glut of saying that no word means more than any other word anymore, and anyone is someone-everyone-no-one.

This is how you make it stay still. This is how you look for saying that says.

This is how you got to the part where you’ve picked up this piece of paper, something lost or discarded on which someone might have written something, like all the other things you pick up, something public that has now become forever private by virtue of never arriving anywhere, except where you are picking it up, reading it in the expansive dead letter office you’ve become.

Grocery lists, phone numbers scribbled on the backs of flimsy receipts, take out menus with every fifth word heavily underlined or circled, crumpled and mauled looking high school exams with vines and flowers heavily inscribed in the margins, pages from coloring books, a photograph of a lost cat on a flyer, some yahoo has scrawled a penis shape over its face, a drawing of a doll, or a girl, with crosses over its eyes, a story underneath something that could be a hat or a pot: thn the spicemens kam from arisona en thir spiceshp an flewd al ovr up n hir.

One time a piece of notebook paper on which someone had written damn over and over, slanted left, right, straight up, even upside down exactly one hundred and thirty-two times, nothing good can come from all the counting you do, all the counting you can’t not do.

A letter, nobody writes letters anymore just rafts of email and barges of twaddle, probably then some ancient artifact: I hope you really didn’t see me at Bob’s the other night and that you weren’t just acting like you didn’t see me, though I don’t recall your vision being that bad. What is wrong? What? Why don’t you call me back? When we were down at the lake I thought we were happy. I thought you said you–the rest was a rip, a ragged edge, you keep expecting that missing strip to turn up somewhere.

Lost, tossed, looking all lonely, things that aren’t going anywhere. A notebook page covered with drawings of piles of cannonballs and knives and what appeared to be guinea pigs on their backs with their feet in the air, at the bottom of the page, the curlicued legend I conker all. A notecard on which someone had written in an old-fashioned fancy hand they shot him, they shot him.

The one you are now unfolding, written on stationery from Gramma’s Quainte Inne, written with a crawling sort of hand, someone has been needing to say something, someone has given up saying anything, someone has no one to say anything to: When I die, I want to be cremated by the King Tut society to. I will make arrangements for my body my bodily remnants remains my remains to be Arrangements have been made or will be made soon for the will be having have been made by for King Tut society to cremate me my body after I die pursuant to my death don’t scatter me over water don’t say anything. When I die I want

These orphan messages—once you read them bad luck to keep them, bad luck to throw them away, you’ve been stashing them in the crevice of a tree in the park down the street from your apartment, let the tree undo them, let the bugs chew them into lace, let the rain wear them down, let the world grind them down like everything else gets ground down till you can’t tell one thing from another.

There will be other pieces of paper you’ll pick up and read. One day one of them will be for you. There is a room inside you waiting for it, waiting for its saying, waiting for its numinous words.

_______________________
Altered image. Original image from: “The Art of Onfim: Medieval Novgorod Through the Eyes of a Child.” http://www.goldschp.net/SIG/onfim/onfim.html

Zelda Forgives You and Understands

noaa tornado 1 mod 1 bw

I forgive you for asking me to drive your car to the shop to have the brakes adjusted and neglecting to tell me that the brakes were like gone and that shifting into second gear would put the car into reverse.

I forgive you for trashing my turntable and my easel and my guitar and miscellaneous other gear that offended you for no other reason than that it was mine.

I forgive you for what I discovered the night the ice storm downed power lines and trees and unleashed a torrent of pigs from a farm down the road who rooted up every bulb I’d ever planted, something I could perhaps have curtailed if I could have seen them with a flashlight instead of only hearing them. It wasn’t just that the batteries in the flashlights were dead but that even when I located the good batteries I couldn’t find a good battery.

Here’s some friendly information for your new life with your new wife: putting dead batteries back in with the good batteries will not recharge them no matter how many dead batteries you try it with.

I forgive you for pissing in the cat box when you were drunk–I understand you just needed to mark your territory.

I forgive you for not even calling me when I was in the hospital, and I understand that you probably thought Continue reading

Face

We hope this friendliness will guarantee a future without details.

This is the part where we become not exactly friends, but friendly, or, rather, we enact friendliness. This enacting is some way of having a face for each other that is not the face we have for each other. That face doesn’t know what to do. Or, rather, that face knows things to do but those things are too unseemly or unruly to be done.

This face—the face of our friendliness–knows what to do because it knows nothing. It’s rather like the face one of us had when one of us found out, the open face with a door closing behind it, or the face that pulls some sort of amnesia along behind it, keeping its luggage with it at all times and not agreeing to carry something in it for a perfect stranger.

In retrospect, it’s astonishing how alike those faces are—the face of the one finding out, the face of the one being found out. Though, of course, the one being found out had been wearing that face for some time, a rather long time in fact.

This friendliness itself is a tacit agreement, a step-down, a pact without details. We hope this friendliness will guarantee a future without details.

If one of us thinks this friendliness is a truce, one of us doesn’t understand. If one of us thinks it’s like let’s do lunch, one of us doesn’t understand. If one of us in the future thinks help me move my furniture, one of us doesn’t understand. If one of us in the future thinks take care of the cat while I’m in the hospital, one of us doesn’t understand.

If one of us keeps mementos of a past us and the other one of us discovers the thumbed box, the thumbed photos, the thumbed postcard from twenty years ago, the lock of hair, that one, the discovering one, will be alarmed.

If one of us just happens to be passing by some trash receptacle in which the other of us has deposited, say, something that had formerly been valued—apparently valued—as a shared object—that perfectly good painting, for example–that one of us just passing by and just noticing might also be alarmed. This is why friendliness must be enacted in public where it will bear no resemblance to evisceration.

Violations of this friendliness will require the invocation of busy-ness and absence, so friendliness establishes busy-ness and absence in advance, a general kind of busy-ness and absence, a future state of things already beyond one’s control that insures the stateless state of the present.

The face of this friendliness is like a mirror that doesn’t reflect anything. It is something that cannot be studied or searched for anything other than its general look of interest or goodwill. It is the face from behind which one can say things like you poor thing how terrible! or that’s great news! that’s really wonderful!

It’s a face one thought oneself incapable of, there’s always so much cheerful sweeping up behind it.

It occurred to us as we were driving away

It occurred to us as we were driving away that _______ never had
_______. Had _______ just forgotten, or was it part of _______?
Maybe it was just _______ way of _______, but if so, what the
_______ were we _______, and where did we think we _______?
Thus, in a perfectly _______ day, we managed to _______ our
_______ by _______ the absent _______ into our _______, and
all our _______ was gone.

Mind the Blanks 2

. . . a story to play with–the story emerges from what the reader’s mind does with the blanks when the reader is reading. No rules–it’s playtime.

Preface to the First Edition

Some ________ are more _______ than others. Take, for instance, the ________. Seldom ________ in more ________climes, various species of ________—the ________, the ________, the ________ among them—thrive from ________to ________.

One day ________ brought ________up in a most unusual context. We were discussing ________ when ________ suddenly began wondering aloud if ________ still _______ on the ________ river. I said, “Well, of course,” but ________ drolly said, “Don’t be too sure.” and then explained that ________ often ________ when ________.

________ told me that in the past ten years, ________, several ________ had ________ in ________. The situation had become so ________ that the government of ________ had mandated that ________. Notwithstanding a few ________, the local populace responded with ________, going so far as to ________ lesser-known ________ in both summer and winter. The effect this had on the ________ population was ________, and ________ were hastily called in to ________.

While ________ was telling me this, I had been ________. I started to ________ but thought better of it. “Surely you don’t mean that ________ ________,” I said. “Oh yes,” ________ said; “They even ________ ________ .”

When ________ left ________that day, I felt ________, but I shrugged it off as my usual ________. But that night I dreamed I was in ________, surrounded by ________ and pleading with ________ to ________ while ________ ________. I awoke so ________ and ________ that I couldn’t ________, and I spent the rest of the night ________.

The next morning I began to ________, and by the following week I had gone to ________ where I was greeted with ________ and began the ________ journey, a record of which now ________ before you.

The After

warbeth 1903 crp smoke 6

This is the part where you’ve climbed as high as you can go and you can see the city, what’s left of it, spread out below like some enormous outcropping of otherworldly rock, its tarnished spires and black-hole monoliths, clouds above it moving so slowly they don’t seem to be moving, just hanging there like comic book clouds, like objects pasted onto the sky.

Somebody made that place, you say. And unmade it.

A lot of somebodies, he says.

If there are somebodies down there, you can’t see them from here, though you doubt there are any somebodies left alive there and you haven’t seen any somebodies apart from your somebody in all these days you’ve been trudging along looking for higher ground, carrying with you that hasty survival kit composed of sundry canned foods that could exist only in a world that never imagined an apocalypse–you finally ate the pink peppercorns in brine last night, unable to envision what sort of dish they might have been a condiment for.  Why you grabbed and haven’t yet ditched your costume jewelry and a bag of miscellaneous nails and furniture tacks and S-hooks, or why out of all the tools you could’ve grabbed from the toolbox you selected the hex wrenches and a miniscule Phillips head screwdriver, well, you’ll never know.  A few days out he said, Useless. You always save the most useless junk.

Here you stand, mesmerized, a condition humans cannot tolerate for very long unless they themselves have chemically induced it, so both of you have followed your minds down into the city. One of you imagines the fires are out and the animals have moved on, leaving behind a grimy sort of urban emptiness, the kind represented in movies by empty streets through which newspapers or grocery bags fly about and little dust devils pass through, no humans in sight. The other of you imagines a long ago time when you wandered that place together, slept in a bed at night, sat on grass in the sun. We don’t know who imagines what, though in truth there’s little imagining involved–the world as you knew it has ended, and you don’t even have any personal memories of it, all that’s left in your mind are filmic tropes.

I’m going back, he says.

You say, What do you mean you’re going back?

He says, I mean I’m going back.

You say, Are you serious? We’ve been walking for over a month to get up here and survey the territory, as you say, and now you want to go back?

I’m going back, he says.

You say, Why? There’s nothing left there but coyotes and trash and broken things, there aren’t even people down there.

He says, we don’t know that.

But we do know that, you say. We searched on our way out. Every damn building and park. We even searched that damn artificial cave at the zoo. I can’t believe I let you talk me into that. Going back to what? It’s just one big grave. Fires. No water.

The city’s big, he says, we didn’t look everywhere.

Like most conversations of this sort, this goes on too long, punctuated too often by silences that don’t seem like silences any more. With only minor variations in its subject matter, it’s like almost every conversation longer than three minutes that you’ve had with him for the past twenty years. Even now you’re talking without looking at each other, gazing out at a scene of desolation to which he wants to return. You are the peacemaker between how you imagine him and how you imagine he imagines you, so you elicit from him a promise that he will sleep on it.  You make camp, which amounts to lying down in the blankets and quilts you wear during the day and drinking a little water, down to strict rationing now, and sharing a can of julienned beets, you’ve only three cans left but you keep forgetting what they are, though that’s in addition to the two tins of Spam, which you’ve agreed to save for last, whenever last comes.

Lying here looking up at a sky weirdly clear and full of stars, you are thinking that in a couple of days you’ll see the ocean, not that there’s much of a plan there, it’s just the next destination fixed in your mind, first the lake on the outskirts of town, then the nearest hill, then a hill here and there after that, that stand of trees, that thing that looked like a stream but turned out to be a flock of black garbage bags, this promontory where you are now.

You don’t know when in this journey through no place toward no place in particular you started thinking only in terms of place, having abandoned thoughts of food, of warmth, of the company of other people, indulging in the thought that at least you are together, and now the thing that you’ve been repeating to yourself without really being aware of it is rolling through your mind like a tank: at least we have each other.

Superimposed on the sky now: scrolling images of people interviewed after tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, explosions, inner city warfare—Thank god we still have each other, they say, at least we have each other, we’re just happy that we have each other. What does it mean to have each other, what does that mean, is it just some mutual way of saying we’re glad we’re not alone?  You dream you are a shiny silver aircraft of some kind, unmanned, dropping plasma bombs.

In the morning, he’s gone. He’s left you a liter of water and a can of okra and tomatoes. Heights make you dizzy, so you get down on your belly in the dirt and wiggle over to the edge of the cliff to look down to see if you can see him, but the morning haze has set in and you can’t really see anything except this little piece of earth you’re on. You just lie there awhile even though you know you need to pack up and start looking for some shade.

You’re thinking he never said why he wanted to go back, and you’re thinking that he had a plan but you weren’t in it, he didn’t say let’s go back, come with me, I’m going back, but you dodge that thought by wondering idly, as if you are thinking about some fictive character, precisely how long he had been thinking it over, when he made up his mind, whether he was thinking about it even before the first EMP, why he decided to tell you at that particular moment. What was he thinking, you think. That there are all kinds of somebodies left he’d rather be with, that there’s some tribe of sturdy survivors with attractive stores of food the looters hadn’t gotten to and loose women just waiting for him to arrive? That he’d rather be alone in a dangerous place than nowhere with you? That anywhere is better than here wherever here is?

A bit less idly, you start thinking about why even now you are wasting time thinking about what he may be thinking, reflecting that whenever you’ve actually known what he was thinking it was usually something that didn’t make any sense or something you didn’t really want to know, some thinking, usually of an elaborate and repetitious kind, merely being a way of not knowing.

You wish you had a door to slam. You wish you had a wall and something breakable to throw at it. You wish you wished those things in a more heartfelt way. But you don’t.

Before you pack up, you take out the things you’ve kept so well hidden you’ve almost forgotten about them and lay them out on the ground—a rather too complex Swiss army knife, a roll of cash, a fistful of silver dollars that you’d been hanging onto as some kind of novelty, some gold jewelry your auntie left you, a flashlight, a sizeable stash of batteries of various types, several yards of nylon clothesline, silk underwear, useful if it ever got cold again, a water purification kit, a bottle of heavy-duty sunscreen, salt tablets, a small but nonetheless substantial first aid kit, a sewing kit you’d snagged for no reason from a hotel in the distant past, some glow sticks, but the kid’s party kind, not the emergency kind, strike anywhere matches in a waterproof box, a bottle of aspirin, several packets of some kind of vitamin and mineral thing to mix in water, you’d be needing a source of water in a couple of days, a snack-sized baggie containing some weed and rolling papers, a couple of space blankets, three tiny bottles of tequila, pens and paper, a compass, a rosary, a camera.

You take a photograph of this stuff, these riches. You’re laughing now. You’re thinking that you crossed some kind of line when the two of you could have used things from this stash but you kept it to yourself, like several nights ago when the last of the batteries you were using for his flashlight gave out, or on one of the first days of this trek when he cut his hand wrestling with a can of fancy beans and could have used some things from your first aid kit. You’re thinking that you had really crossed the line before that when you packed these things and then forgot about them, forgot about them so long that you couldn’t imagine the circumstances in which you could have produced them without feeling guilty. It’s like some other part of you has been looking out for you. You don’t doubt for a second that if he’d known about your stash he would have helped himself before sneaking away that morning without even saying goodbye, good luck, fuck you.

By the time you’ve packed up, the haze has started to dissipate, you can see a bit of the city, you’re feeling kind of exhilarated to be looking at it for the last time, to be on your own without feeling bad about feeling alone. Before turning around and heading out for wherever it is you’re going, you say it out loud: Not even. Not even if you were the last man on earth.

Second Life

We knew we would die and we didn’t care. When we discovered we were already dead, we reckoned we’d been conscripted.

For several millennia we walked the outer wall, which was not the same wall if one thought of it as, say, an inner wall, which is not to say that we ever knew where we were or who we were, if we were us or if we even knew each other.

At first–in a remnant of maybe someone’s old neighborhood or maybe some coastal sort of place where we were maybe born–there was only one landmark: an iridescent oil slick, left behind, someone claimed, by a factory of former ones plying furtive somethings in remote and desperate locales. Well, hell, someone said, is quite remote, but others disagreed, saying hell was usually located rather close to where one lived and thus, given that we were dead and all, probably was not the remote we were in.

Rumors reached us that our pets were pacing morosely about near some
Continue reading

Wet

Ito mer compr

A woman washes up on a lonely stretch of beach. The sun is barely up. Three men are passing by on their way to do some surf casting. She asks them what town they’re in, they look at her and quickly look away, she asks them for a drink of water and, of all things, a cigarette, they’ve got no time for female foolishness, they ignore her and walk on, their minds have gone on ahead to where they’re going.

Although the don’t-look-and-it-won’t-exist method of managing reality does sometimes work, in general, it’s just not good not to assist drowned women regardless of where they are or what they ask you for. If no kindness meets them on land, they are stuck there for years and years living again as ordinary women. More or less.

Give them wine, give them something to dry off with, be a friend, and they can go back to the water and you can go back to your life. But some men see a shitload of trouble when a woman suddenly rises up out of the sea. They don’t know what trouble is. Continue reading

Conjure

This is the part in which you are strolling with the conjure woman in a garden filled with inexplicably scary or scarily inexplicable prehistoric looking plants, gigantic things, dwarfing, one supposes, the mere humans in the middle distance and reminding us of the, oh, the ephemerality of it all. Of course, the reason you’re with the conjure woman is that you thought she could do something about the ephemerality of things, specific things–fading, fleeting, gone already, in the kind of past that really is over. She is saying to you or maybe to me “I tol’ you and tol’ you so” or, perhaps, “I tol’ you so-and-so” or perhaps she is just nodding her head in that tired you-wouldn’t-listen way.

No matter. What she told you before that you wouldn’t listen to is this: if you have to make a charm for someone to love you, you have to take whatever kind of love you get from it, but you also have to take whatever kind of love it makes you give. Or, rather, you have to take the person you become when what you want to have for love is something that the person you want it from really doesn’t want to give you. In other words, in the scene from the past that may be appearing in a thought bubble in your vicinity, you asked for a mojo hand to make something happen that wouldn’t happen otherwise, and she warned you.

She warned you then in that other part that you are now remembering in this part—by the way, she’s not wearing a head-rag or a voluminous colonial skirt, she looks rather like a successful businesswoman, like really successful, like the clothes are understated and exquisite, and if you keep thinking about this you are going to get a fair idea of exactly how much business she does, even though it’s of basically three types: get and re-get and un-get. At any rate, she warned you that the outcome of the thing she could make for you and the let’s-bake-a-weird cake things you’ll have to do with it that these things are unpredictable–maybe help, maybe harm, that’s what she said. And then she gave you what you wanted, which has amounted to simultaneously giving you what you want and punishing you for thinking it was something you could have.

Which is why you’re here now after begging her to meet you. And now instead of asking her to undo it, you are asking her to do more to it, and you know it’s like that time you agreed to cut your girlfriend’s hair and your attempts to correct your mistakes and then to correct your corrections ended up with her having a more or less skinned head. And, of course, how do you think Miss Conjure got those fine clothes that you could never in a million years afford, if not by giving people what they deserve when they think they deserve something else?

She’s answering her phone now and giving you the cellphone finger. You wander down the path like a kid headed home after being shut out of a game. Or maybe you’re just starting to give in to the next outrageous thing that’s going to come out of your mouth. You realize now that you’re in the arboretum not some mystical garden though there is in fact a kind of mystical slant of late afternoon light coming in from somewhere, big stripes of it across the path full of what looks like extremely fine gold dust and you could just crawl up under that tree where shade has given things clear edges.

And then she’s saying she won’t do what you want, and you shouldn’t want it done [three-beat pause], but she knows someone who will. Suddenly she’s gone and you are standing there looking at the back of one of her business cards on which she’s written a phone number and a name. But you won’t pause to consider whether you should explore possibilities other than calling Madame Virginie and taking that taxi that’s going to miraculously appear when you get out to the street. Or at least you’re going to think of it as miraculously appearing, along with other things you’ll interpret as presaging in a happy sort of way the world you’re going to be living in when you are defined by the love that you are thinking of yourself as merely nudging along.

Listen: cicadas, that sound that winds around everything until there’s nothing else.

Tol’ you so.

Know

sea serpent near galveston crop short mod 1

This is the part where you don’t know what you know. Later when you know what you know, you don’t like what you know, you wish you didn’t know it, you wish you’d known it sooner. But you did.

Right now you are dreaming, strolling, lollygagging, in a place where you don’t know what you know. So it’s more like somebody is dreaming you, sorting you out in the dream bins with the other detritus of the day, some other dreamer who gets to wake up while you dream on.

First there are some bad things, though the really bad things aren’t what you think the bad things are, you think he’s sad. You’re sad, but your sad doesn’t matter. It’s like always giving him the better part of whatever it is that you are cooking for dinner, everything you take for yourself is something not good enough for him. No big deal, you’ve got love, you’ve got a lot to give. Everything you have in life is something with a nick in it or a smudge on it, you get the crooked, he gets the straight, you get the old, he gets the new. It’s what you do till you don’t even know you do it.

His sad, now that’s something, that’s some kind of sad, something’s got to be done about that kind of sad. Your sad, that’s just some little old thing you keep in the nevermind drawer. One day you’re going to be looking for something and you’re going to open that drawer up and think where did all this broken stuff come from, how come I kept it when it didn’t get fixed? But that’s later, not now.

Get this: he’s not loving you, but you cannot imagine that, so you think he’s sad, you think his mind is off in some lonely place, of course he’s not talking, there aren’t words to say whatever the big sad is he got coming down on him. You get a cat, you think maybe he needs something small to love, you think maybe he needs to work his way back up to loving you—what the hell are you thinking?

You’re thinking there’s a story here, a story of restoration, a story of return. Or maybe it’s just that you think whatever the story is, he’s in it, you’re in it. Now the cat’s in it, and the cat needs your love too because he’s not loving the cat and what you move on to thinking is that if he just loves the cat it’s ok if he doesn’t love me, he just needs to love something so he can start living again. Doctor Jesus, please come on in my house.

You’re not thinking he’s got a story and you’re not in it. What kind of story would that be? If you’re not in the story he’s in, why is he still here and what the hell are you doing here?

What you got girl is a baby man: a baby that ain’t a baby, a man that ain’t a man. So you think: must be a man man thing, letting you see his softer side, oh how you’re gonna take tender care of it, oh how you are gonna abide with this little slump here, this soft side. The side you get when the other side’s already packed its bags and gone off somewhere else.

Oh, you worried so about that man. Everybody loves that man. How’s Derek? they say down at the store. Oh, you know, you say and shake your head. How’s Derek? they say at work. Oh he’s coming along little by little, you say. At church, How’s Derek? Oh, you say, he just has not been the same since his mama died, I miss her too. And you do and so you think you know his sadness. Your girlfriends, now, they’re not saying How’s Derek, they don’t even say his name anymore but you don’t notice that, how’s he, what’s he doing, he’s he to you too, and by the time you get it, your friends, they’re gone too.

Later on you think. What kind of man, you think, what kind of man, what kind of words come after what kind of man. What kind of man what kind of man what kind of man. But right now you wait, you’re patient, but you don’t really know how to be patient, never have, so you don’t know that what you are experiencing is postponement.

So you wait. And then you drift. But even that isn’t what you think it is. You think you’re drifting, drifting in all this waiting, waiting for him to be the man who used to love you, waiting for him just to be the kind of man who can love you, waiting to be the woman that kind of man would love. Drifting. Postponing what you know but don’t know you know: you’re not drifting—he’s cut you loose, he’s thrown you back in, he’s got bigger fish to fry. He’s got the life boat. Look at all that water running over your feet.

One day you reach out to touch him, to comfort him, he’s so sad, he’s so lost, you think, and he recoils. Now there’s a word your mind has never coiled around, a word you’ve known only in books: the mortal coil, snakes coil, guns recoil. Now you know men recoil. You think about it the way you think about things you learned in school. Isn’t that something? Men recoil. Who’dathought.

And here you’ve got to hand it to your mind: if you knew what that meant, there would just be no living, so it just becomes another fact. And everything else becomes another fact. And you are living in a world where nothing can mean anything because if anything means anything then it can mean something that he won’t even touch you now. Though he does seem to be warming up to the cat.

And that, you will think later, is what people mean when they say it is what it is. It is what it is because we can’t say what it is because if we said what it is it would really be what it is which is what it really shouldn’t be but is. When you get back to it later, that is how your mind is going to run on because a mind that can run on like that is a mind that can run away.

One day you think he might as well have killed you. And then you know he did. And that’s when you know that nothing you know is any good. And that’s when you go see the conjure woman. Because you can’t live in the world you’re in, and you think if he loved you again it would be a world worth living in.

Now you know.

——————————
altered image; original image: Oudemans, The great sea-serpent (1892), Biodiversity Library: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/129989#page/75/mode/1up

Stella Ridley Twelve

12

My First Friend

When I entered public school, I became a public loner—that kid at the edge of the playground studying her shoes or walking back and forth on the periphery as if in some invisible cage. The first friend I ever made on my own was Ouida St. John. We were in the same mathematics class and shared the distinction of being the only students in the class who had barely a rudimentary clue about the subject matter no matter how hard we worked on our homework. Somehow we migrated—perhaps the teacher migrated us—to the back of the room, and as long as we were quiet there, the teacher, who had openly given up on us, let us do as we pleased. So we passed notes—Ouida’s were almost impossible to decipher—or, when other students were engaged in noisy math games, we chatted without fear of getting black marks for conduct. Continue reading

Stella Ridley One

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Holy Moly

 One Sunday in church when I was ten or eleven years old, Molly elbowed me as we were singing “Holy, holy, holy” and cut her eyes down toward a yawning hole in Aunt Deena’s stockings.  I looked and then quickly stared straight ahead and sang louder, trying to sing over whatever nonsense Molly was singing instead of “merciful and mighty.”   I didn’t need to look to know that further down the row Matu was leaning over her hymnal and glaring at us with her mouth in that tense line that even then was getting to be a habit.  When we sat down for the sermon, Molly was quaking with repressed laughter, and I had to pinch myself hard as I did every Sunday, with or without Molly’s puns and antics.  I don’t know what was wrong with me.  During the most solemn moments, I was possessed by the impulse to leap up and shout.   In fact, when I heard the phrase “mortification of the flesh,” I thought it referred to the repressed and rather itchy urge to guffaw or shout in church, and I was secretly of the opinion that I might be more at home in one of those evangelical sects that elevate losing control to a form of worship.

Back in the station wagon, Matu and Mamaw Ridley sat in front, and Aunt Deena, Molly, Baby Robert, Adela (my pet sibling at the time), and I crammed into the backseat because no one liked to sit in the seat that was the whole point of having a station wagon, what we called the “way back seat,” which faced backwards and therefore seemed, well, unsociable.  Molly held the baby, and Adela, who was probably about four then, sat on my lap and reached over to fondle Deena’s locket. When Deena kissed Adela’s little chubby hand, a brief, inexplicable shock of envy ran through me as it always did when I saw moments of love or affection that did not include me, but then Molly started humming the hymn we had sung in church, and we started laughing and couldn’t stop.

“What are they on about?” Matu said, craning her head up and sideways to look in the rearview mirror, squinting back at Deena and nearly running over poor Miss Estelle from down the street.  Deena said, “I have no idea, but I’m sure that it’s irreverent,” in that voice she had that we children all loved, a voice that–no matter what it was saying–said that everything was wonderful and good.  “What?  What?” Mamaw said and looked around frantically as if she’d just heard a shotgun go off, but by then we were home and nobody paid her any mind.  As we were all piling out of the car, Matu said, “Deena!  Look at your stockings!” and Deena did look, and laughed.  “I didn’t have time to give Miss Monkey her cream, so she swatted me as I was going out the door,” she said.  And Matu glared at her and shook her head and started in with “Deena, I’ve never seen you without a hole or a ladder-run in your stockings.  And there is such a thing as hairspray you know.”

Deena patted at her frizzy hair and laughed, said, “I can’t help it if I have our mother’s hair. And there’s nothing I can do about the wind.”

“Really, Deena, people notice these things!  How can I raise these girls up right if you set such a . . . such a scruffy example?”

Molly handed the baby to Matu and turned back toward me, smirked, and made yackety-yack motions with her hands.  She mouthed the words “people notice”—one of Matu’s favorite phrases–and opened her eyes wide in mock alarm.  Matu could not have actually seen this, but Matu seemed to know everything, seen or not.  She snapped, “Molly!  Stop that disrespectful behavior!  Right now!”

At that time, Molly and I—Molly was only a year and a half older than me, and I was very precise about this “only”–were just on the verge of thinking about stockings and hairspray and such, but Matu had already started avidly monitoring our behavior, our grooming, our posture, even our facial expressions.  She was hoping, I suppose, that she could avoid the inevitable upheaval of our adolescence if she prepared everything in advance and had us well in line.  She knew that we were rather charmed by Deena’s blithe violations of propriety, and she had become increasingly exasperated with Deena, as if Deena were a naughty child.  And women in my family, whatever they were doing, were relentless.  We sometimes overheard Matu all ganged up with Mamaw on the subject of Deena’s appearance.  They said things like “Now Deena, you have such a pretty face.  If only you’d wear makeup.  Not that dab of lipstick.  A proper foundation.”  Deena would interrupt them with a laugh and say she didn’t have time for makeup, but they would then go on at length about how much easier life is if you make an effort to fit in (another of Matu’s and Mamaw’s favorite phrases).  But Deena would just laugh some more.  Not in a mean way, mind you—Aunt Deena didn’t have a mean bone in her body—but in a way that said to them that she found their criticism endearing or cute, which must have irritated them as no meanness or scoffing resistance ever could.

When they got onto Deena this way, the only thing that would bring them up short was Papaw, who would exercise his mouth for what seemed like forever until he had maneuvered his dentures into place and then grumble, “Girl’s fine just as she is.  Leave her alone.”