If they got angry with each other, angry enough to walk in different directions without turning back, and if they kept walking for years like that without ever checking over their shoulders to verify the continued opposition, would he then—years later when she dialed his number (after so much time of the habit’s remission) and said quickly on hearing his voice, “Sorry, wrong number,” and hung up—would he recognize her in that voice? And would he click his heels and turn back? And would she?
He appeared in the bathroom doorway fresh from his self-inflicted shearing, tiny drops of water still navigating the rivulets between his now microscopic hairs, grinning with the self-satisfaction of misbehavior. Was he disappointed when her face registered no shock or distress or, worse still, amusement?
What’s a curry turnover doing on the menu at a Chinese place? Who cares. She loves the sweaty perfume of cinnamon cumin cardamom. And Ella Fitzgerald loses the letter to her love in the soundtrack of every meal she eats here. At this Chinese place in Iowa. And, Jesus! the potsickers! Inspiring the meal she’ll share with him months later at 4AM in Seattle, the meal she’ll wake at 1AM to prepare: postickers full of color and love in her brand new stainless steel frying pan that will never be the same. And so Ella will sing to her in that memory movie, too.
For weeks, she worried privately that the nicks and scabs on the knobby parts of her feet and ankles were signs of some quiet bodily degeneration. And she complained about the thick, pointy edges of his toes, those weird chitinous vestiges of prehistory. She hadn’t made the connection. And then, suddenly, as he wrapped his legs around her, he stabbed her with those treacherous toenails. Her shriek concealed the relief at her core.
A love like this, is it impossible?
Her first failure in the genre, with the one before him, had its end’s beginnings in a flea market. When the went in together on the antique blender with the sturdy glass pitcher. They both egan wanting the thing, this home-economical bagatelle, more than they wanted each other. That night the margaritas were bitter and watery. And they screamed and fought on the grimy floor in spite of the friend who was in town all the way from Prague. “Why are you doing this to me?” he wailed.
Was the emphasis on why or this or me? I don’t remember. Why: Must I neatly relate my hysteria to a single moment, one cause? Then I don’t know. Try this: because he saddens me, he frightens me—even now, so many years later, in clouded memory—his fascination wih all the women who weren’t me, even shapely glass ones designed to mix cold, frothy drinks. This: Yelling? Failing to relent? Because sotto voce is not my stile, because I need this volume to quiet the terror whispering at me, because if only he can hear me, he will stop shoveling back that Becherovka. Me: Him? Because he invited me, he promised me a modicum of love, there is no customer service number to call, I have lost confidence in this purchase.
Though its demise was wrought many months later by more powerful cruelties, she is sure now a poisonous mixture of blended and diluted tequila and lime and ice weakened their love that night. She drinks them on the rocks now.
These days. Of late. Recently. She is exposing herself to him. Here she is in their bed: stretched out, limp, demanding his attention. Here she is huddled into a ball at her desk in the kitchen, screaming and weeping over the IRS and her 1040 at 11:35 PM on April 15th. Oh, and here’s another: that’s her reading a love letter she didn’t write to him—it fluttered to the ground while she was cleaning, honestly—it fluttered with the syrupy sentiment face-up so she had to. She had to read it. A love like hers. Is it impossible? Is she?
He has clung to highway barriers, walked eight miles at 2AM. He has caressed (nothing more! he insists) two women at the same time. He has driven across the continent with a lover who was not her. Once, he drew her picture, better looking than she is.
It’s been years now since she had a curry turnover at Cafe Su. He was in Los Angeles. She moved to Seattle because it was closer to Los Angeles than Des Moines. But shaving 1000 miles off of a 2000-mile distance was only coldly comforting. So it wasn’t long after they dined on early morning potsickers and held each other on the Murphy bed in her new Seattle apartment that he came to drive her battered station wagon with the two bald tires through the night and the ice and the snow to Los Angeles and the late morning sun—just in time to hit the traffic left behind by the Los Angeles Marathon. That was three years and two apartments ago. He used to brag to his friends that she knew her way around L.A. better than he within a week of moving here. They pretended to be impressed.
There is still the magic, though, right? Like the tiny plastic street signs (froma train set?) she finds around the house once in a while. She just looked over and saw the one with the international sign for “traffic flows in both directions” on her desk. How long has it been there? Is he trying to tell her something?
A thumb is a finger the way a square is a rectangle? Isn’ that right?