Ectoplasm

The layman’s term for ectoplasm—that’s what
the cool girl-woman with the Audrey Hepburn hair
in the tight black dress says to the guy in the suit
who leans in close to hear her, as they glide past on
their way into the room at the party where the cool
people hang out with other cool people, wearing the
still faces of the cool, knowing, you think, things
you cannot even imagine, and never ever saying
the layman’s word for ec-to-plasm.  They look like
they’ve been imported from some exotic place where
nobody is ever surprised by anything, but what do
you know, you’re fifteen, and not the worldly person
you expected to be putting on your first pair of
stockings, like slipping into a new body, exquisite,
being loved by those stockings till you realize they
are just the first of encumbrances and bindings still
to come. These cool people don’t look, they gaze, and
when they gaze at you they make you not exist, your
college boy date knows these people, but he’s not cool,
if he was cool, he wouldn’t be here with you. Why are
you here, your reckless friend out in the car with the
other college guy doing who-knows-what, it’s like
every double date she will talk you into, and it’s only
the second date of your life, your dog wouldn’t let him
get out of his car when he showed up, then that
disappointed look from daddy when he looks at you
now and your mother wishing you’d just go away and
saying so again just yesterday, you wish you’d go
away too.  Ectoplasm, what a disappointment when
you look it up later, it’s not anything, you look up
layman too but you already know from the way the
cool girl said it that it means lowly and uncouth, in
other words you, so unlike these sleek girls in black
supernaturally untouched by this Mississippi heat,
conversing, murmuring, sipping the cool drinks of the
cool, not the sloe gin and 7-up your friend is knocking
back in the car and will be throwing up in about an
hour on some gravel road. This party starts to feel sort
of like church, which makes you want to say damn
over and over, just another place where you don’t
belong, you’d rather be dancing in your room alone or
watching Star Trek or throwing sticks for the dog.
Twenty years later, you’ve been some places, you’ve
had plenty of cool, you’re back home, it’s two a.m.,
you’re in one of those not-exactly-nightclub clubs, the
kind without a fixed address, and there’s a goddess
singing the blues, singing like there’s some enormous
feeling inside her that’s going to kill her if she doesn’t
get it out and every word is pulling that thing out of
you and all the people you’re standing with here too,
the only thing in the world is this voice kneading this
pain.  When the set ends it’s like you’ve come out on
the other side of something you thought you’d never
make it through, the whole room is hollering praise
and gratitude.  Everybody takes a break, the smell of
pot comes in from outside, somebody has put a cold
beer in your hand, now the room’s not full of sound,
you’re just looking around, and there they are, current
incarnations of the cool people from that party when
you were fifteen, arrayed around a table in the middle
of the room, performing cool but looking also a bit as if
they wonder how they arrived in this place of mortals
with our mortal inconveniences like falling in love with
the wrong people over and over again or fucking things
up when you are trying hard not to.  When you see that
skittish ethereal mist rising up from their table and
hanging in the air above them, you know what it is:
ectoplasm.

. . .

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