Posts tagged saturday
Posts tagged saturday
The city looks different at night, slower somehow and more livable. The sun has set but we are washed in the ever changing colors of lit billboards and company logos; the fireworks of a modern city.
The city catches light everywhere but holds it loosely, a child approaching fireflies with open hands. The hood of taxis reflect and distort traffic light. On sunglasses’ lenses and the puddles in the street, neon stars of blue and red. Buildings made of cheap plaster now tinted a soft green.
The windows of apartments stacked upon each other are all illuminated against the dull blackness now surrounding the streets. Some have curtains pulled down, floral prints, heavy whites.
There are soft lamps demarcating areas of outdoor seating, bright and inviting lights of open-late diners. Christmas lights strung around balconies and bars, red paper lamps for good luck. Charcoal-based fires on the side of the road where impromptu and unlicensed grill outs take place, a small vagrant camp of collapsible furniture.
With the falling darkness comes the reminder to get your loved ones, get a meal, and get yourself home.
All around the park are people selling and buying kites. The highest flyers, lit with LEDs, are obviously meant to be shown off. These, however, aren’t for sale. I wonder who flies them, if they are old, if they are serious. I’ve walked through many of the park’s pavilions and courtyards. I’ve walked on trails and taken a bike behind the artificial lake, and I’ve never come across these elite kitests.
Other kites are cleverly designed to look like sharks, butterflies, or birds. These are as few as the LED-lit kites, but they delight me. With a smooth hand, the illusion is made believable. The kite’s movements mirror a shark’s sharp turn, the bird’s wings pulling in for a dive. These types of kites come with at least two handles, and you should take special care not to cross your strings.
Most, however, are simple, tissue paper with the mascots from the 2008 Olympics or famous faces from operas printed on. All have green ribbons as tails. They have been tied to each other, and so kite upon kite, they create a chain of mascots and wood and ribbon, each flying higher and looking smaller than the next. These are sold to children, tourists, Olympic-enthusiasts, foreigners, to anyone with ten yen.
Looking backwards at all these kites, they look like the trailing tentacles of a jellyfish. The city one ocean bloom.
I’m sorry I called you a jackass. That doesn’t mean you aren’t one, though. It doesn’t get you off the hook or anything. Still, I’m sorry all my friends have learned to put “that son of a bitch” after your name. I’m sorry I can’t return any of your things; I lost them months ago.
I wonder what you’ll be like next year, with your now long-distance girlfriend being in Texas. She’s great, really. A better person than me by a mile and a half. She’s probably a better engineer, too. We all know you two will get married at a young age and live the rest of your quiet, well-intentioned lives together. I have nothing against her. I lent her my calculator once right before a midterm, you know.
You’re different around her. You change even when you just say her name. There’s this lightness in your movements, an easiness that is so rare with you. And that’s the way it should be, I think.
I remember the time you held a cigarette less than an inch from my palm until I almost cried. The time you took a wrench to my fingers. The time you threatened to jump over the railing. The whole time you said it was me, it was my fault.
Well, your girlfriend can turn you into her husband and keep you her whole life long. All that remains of you in my life is the shitty poem you wrote and titled for me two years ago and this song.
I planned on painting my bedroom brown. A rich, not-too-dark and not-too-light brown. One that would give shadows depth and the slanted light a warmth. This would be the brown of birds’ nests, of shredded mulch soaked with rain. The brown of my sister’s favorite wool-lined blanket. It would be a color that holds you in the winter, that grounds you after a bad night, another dream gone sour.
I started looking for specific shades I might want wherever I was. I threw palettes together quickly and haphazardly. The wooden shingles of my neighbor’s doghouse with the bold blue of his water bowl and the stark white of his teeth. The bark of my favorite magnolia tree, gnarled and easy to climb, with the glossy dark green of its leaves and the cream of its dying flowers. I ran through colors and fabrics, through eras and their furniture sets. I never settled on one particular color scheme. But that’s alright, I thought, I still have years ahead of me. I said this out loud, and it sounded true. I was, after all, planning my house at a rather young age.
Years passed since the first time I defined my future bedroom as brown. I stopped looking, though, for the colors as I traveled, and I stopped thinking of fabric swatches on the bus. But I was sure. Or mostly sure. I started seeing desks I liked, this one bedframe that I loved, gilded mirrors, minimalistic lamps. I wasn’t so sure that they belonged in a brown room, in my brown room. I knew I would have to decide between the items and the wall color someday. And I told myself that I still had time, though not as much as before. I said it out loud, and it still sounded true.
It happened suddenly and intuitively. The three of us had snuck down to the dock and talked through the coolest hours of the night. I pointed to different constellations and repeated what stories I could remember. We lay there, parallel to the wooden planks. The darkness of the water inches below us, the stars so far above. I turned onto my side, away from the two of you and away from the town with its streetlights. At the horizon, the sky was drinking in the light of some still hidden sun.
My lying eyes fed me this pale purple signifying an approaching sunrise, even though I know we were hours away. And I knew, then, the exact color of my bedroom walls. I would make my bed frame out of the dock’s dried and splintered wood that would, being bleached from the sun, never stain darker. I would have my whalebone-yellow accents and get the patterns of the solar system inked into my skin. I would buy a dark blue comforter large enough to swallow me, and I would go to sleep alone.
« Of Spring Rain »
Narcissa and I used to share a room. We got in a big fight over what color to paint the walls. She wanted a light green, me a happy yellow. In the end, our dad had the walls painted off-white, like most rooms in the apartment. My mother always said she didn’t like the location, but Narcissa and I were too young to really understand what she meant. The apartment complex had a courtyard out front that doubled as a parking space, plus down one block was a gas station that was always stocked with ice cream. We thought the location was perfect. We heard sirens nearby often; my father said they were the wails of ghosts and spirits. I know now that they were ambulances.
After a few years and one big promotion, our family moved into the house I live in now. In the rarer occasion that we hear sirens at night, Miss Jemima’s kitchen on fire and Mister Don’s post-dinner heart attack being the only two I remember, I think about the nights that Cissy and I spent together in that room. It wasn’t very big, barely enough room for our bunk beds and twin desks. But there was a closet and my dad put in a floating shelf. I would climb into her bed when the sirens started. She’d turn to face me and would say, “You’re walking down a road when you have to make a decision. Left or right?” Sometimes, as in when Narcissa was not in a good mood, going right meant being stranded in a desert for forty years (“Right?” “Sand.” “Left.” “More sand.” “Right, right, then a left.” “Sand. And a little bit of clay.”). Other times, going right would lead me into a dark and enchanted forest. I’d meet a princess of unspeakable beauty, a troll saving money for an engagement ring, or a huntsman who had lost his bow and arrows. Once I even wound up being the princess of a realm, but I think it’s because mom told Narcissa about how Sara Frances hit me in the face in a game of dodge ball and busted my lip. We would play that game for an hour, until the sounds around us faded; then we would fall asleep curled under the same blanket and dream about the same things.
Her room now is nothing like the one we shared. For starters, it actually looks lived in. Maybe even a little abused. Our room was too small to host both us girls and our messy habits. We had quickly learned the best ways to store our clothes, toys, shoes, and so on, all to take up the least floor space possible. But now, as I looked for Narcissa’s math textbook, I had to gingerly step over piles of clothing, scrap paper, and, oddly enough, dried lavender tied together with twine. Narcissa had a penchant for starting collections that made no sense to me. On her desk I saw rolls of quarters, under her bedside table were old stamps and older postcards, scattered around the foot of her desk was a box full of pine needles.
After some clumsy navigation, I made it to her stack of old schoolbooks. Not surprisingly, Narcissa, the complete collector, kept all of them. “Biology and More, Seventh Edition. Immaculate Grammar. One Thousand Must Know Words. The History of the Americas. Aha, Seward’s Introduction to Calculus, Fifth Edition.” I held the book in both my hands. In the glossy red cover, I could see a faint outline of my own reflection and the scowl that was twisting up my mouth. I had pleaded with her earnestly as all beggars will, but as I stared down at the textbook, I felt my insides twisting.
I braced myself for the ugliness inside this book, the squiggles and the signs, and willed myself to learn about integrals. The book opened easily to an arbitrarily bookmarked section. It was a bunch of text, no definitions, no examples, no highlighted or even bolded words. Then I realized the bookmark was just a piece of copy paper folded over and over. In the neat script that I recognized as my sister’s, I saw a shopping list. I squinted as I tried to read her delicate cursive.
“One green glass bottle, two-thirds full of salt water.
Two blue glass bottles, filled with sand, dirt.
Three stalks dried lavender, tied tightly with good twine.
Four feathers, cardinal – ”
I nearly jumped out of my skin. I turned to see my mother, tall and beautiful, standing in the doorway. Everyone says that Narcissa inherited my mother’s good looks. They say I got her nose.
“Come on, you silly bird, lunch is on the table.” With a last questioning look, she turned and walked to the kitchen. I could feel my face blush, even though I knew I was only doing exactly what Narcissa had told me to do. I wasn’t reading her diary or stealing her allowance money or anything wicked. But my instincts told me that Narcissa never meant for anybody to find that list. To find that she too must have once tried her hand at magic.
« Of Spring Rain »
The night before our magic and gold-bound book was due back at the library, Jimmy and I both copied down the spell on scrap paper; I wrote it in between margins of my diary, Jimmy on the back of a math test he vowed to never show his parents. But the next morning, when I scrambled out of bed at the sound of Narcissa closing the kitchen door, I couldn’t find the book. Our beautiful, adventure-giving, thirty-five dollars plus tax book. The last time I had lost a book, a much cheaper book, Narcissa had begrudgingly paid for it, but I did all her chores for about a month. I even mowed the lawn. Well, I mean, I would have if my dad hadn’t come out while I was struggling to get the engine started. It was with a mechanical roar buzzing in my ears that I went to greet my sister in the living room.
I have always thought that my sister looked, well, a bit royal. There she sat with her feet tucked under her, hair swept over one shoulder, book open in her lap. I approached her slowly, a peasant girl condemned. I wondered what her voice would sound like should she yell an “off with her head!” – I shuddered, and Narcissa eyed me curiously.
“What have you done?”
“I. Uh. Well. I seem to have…” I looked around the room as if the book might have walked itself out of my room and into the living room during the night.
“An, are you looking for your library book? The one you and Jimmy chose together two months ago?”
“I. Uh. Well, maybe.”
Her eyes narrow; a hawk before it dives. “Maybe? As in maybe you’ve lost it?”
“Yes, that maybe.”
“It looks like an expensive book. What with all the gold foil and the magic.”
“I’m really sorry! I am! I’ll do all your chores until you’re thirty; the dishes and the laundry and the dusting. And I’ll never tell mom that you went out on a date with Chris Coveny even though she said not to. And I’ll get really good at math and do all your homework. And I’ll even look after your firstborn.” I knew how pitiful I sounded, really, I did. But, at the sight of her pursed lips and an arched eyebrow, I didn’t know what other choice I had.
“An, I just finished calculus one. Have you even heard of an integral?”
“No, but I could learn real fast. I’ll start reading your textbook tonight.”
“Yes, I think that’s a good start. In fact, why don’t you start now? The book is in my room. Bring it down and we can both read for a few hours.”
“… Narcissa?” She has re-opened her book and is reading rather intently. “A few hours? But it’s a Saturday, and well, I told Jimmy that – ”
“Do you think they used real gold? On the cover of the book, I mean. Because if they did, I bet it makes the book even more expensive. I think it looked like real gold.”
With that, I ran off to Narcissa’s room, her mad laughter following me down the hall.
« Of Spring Rain »
The spell had some very strict routines. While we couldn’t match the ingredients with complete honesty, we did follow every shade, every nuance called for in the rituals. Every Saturday night just before midnight, we met at the honeysuckle bushes that marked the entry path to the dock. Jimmy would give me an austere nod, and we would make the descent in silence.
The path was short, but steep and with such a curve that the trees on both side seemed to be perpetually leaning in. Jimmy and I rarely even looked at each other during this time. Once, I glanced over to see his face screwed up with concentration, hands balled up. I asked him later, while I was storing our ingredients and he was tying up a bundle of branches with twine, what he was thinking about. Now, we stored everything – the branches and twine, the bottle of lavender salts, the small oyster shells and smoothest rocks we hand-picked from the shore – in a natural hole created by the side hedges’ surfacing roots. See, if you were small enough, which I was and Jimmy wasn’t, you could duck under the branches and crawl through a veritable maze of roots and dark dirt. I put everything into my old backpack, dove into the underbrush, and felt my way to this small dip in the ground. That’s where I kept the backpack, half-buried with dirt and covered with surrounding leaves. And that’s where I was when Jimmy answered me, but all I heard was a muffled version of his voice. Sound waves filtered by glossy leaves and soaked into living bark.
I stuck my head out of the bushes. I must’ve taken him by surprise; I saw anger knitted into his eyebrows, but as soon as he lifted his head to me, the look was gone.
“What did you say?”
I wriggled out and brushed the dirt off my knees. He stuck a feather into the twigs, bowed to the moon, and threw them into the lake. I walked down and handed him a stone. It was worn smooth and shaped like a heart squeezed too hard at the bottom. I held on to a shell that was as big as my thumbnail. We both bowed to the moon again, traded items, and after another bow, threw them into the lake as well. He turned to me.
“I said, I think about how awful it must be, being alone at the bottom of the lake. It’s cold and dark down there. Can’t see the sun, can’t see nothin’.” He gave me a solemn look. “You forget, Andy, but I been down there before. And it ain’t where I want to spend my eternity.”
“You liar! You didn’t touch the bottom. No way.”
“You wanna bet? I’ve been there once, I can go again. I’ll bring you back the slimy dirt so soft it squishes right between your toes without you noticing.”
I didn’t want to bet. Jimmy asked me what I thought about. I told him I thought about how much I bet her family loved her. I told him I bet she had an older sister just like my Narcissa and two pet dogs. I think that’s the first time I ever lied to him like that. But something pulled at my heart so heavily when he asked. I felt it thickening my blood to lead. I didn’t tell him that I didn’t think at all on the way down. I just saw her dead, waterlogged body, bloated and falling apart, make its way towards us in the still waters, one rotted arm reaching out for our hands.
« Of Spring Rain »
That’s the day we started making plans. The “Spell to Recall Lost Items” sprawled over pages thirty-six to forty-two was complicated and involved a lot items that neither Jimmy nor I had heard of before, let alone owned. Still, we promised to each other then, on the dusty linoleum floor, that we would follow this through to the end.
Despite the back sleeve’s promise, the ingredients needed were not all common pantry items. With only a few dollars allowance saved between us and the Piggly Wiggly within biking distance from our houses, we found ourselves making a lot of compromises along the way. Jimmy and I argued a little, about whether these changes were okay or not. On one hand, we were dealing with a small, woodland-confined lake instead of a staggering, beleaguering large sea. On the other hand, we were not really trying to find an item. We were recalling a human body, a whole life we never even knew. I bet Jimmy she was beautiful and had hair like a mermaid’s. He bet she was tall, like his mother, and had long nails but small teeth.
The arguing never amounted to anything. I mean, it’s not like we were switching out fresh lavender for my mom’s lavender-scented bath salts because we didn’t care or because we were lazy. The use of sushi wraps for dried kelp seemed natural. We bundled up sticks from trees all throughout our neighborhood and school yard because we were pretty sure a willow tree has never set roots in our entire country before. Our intentions were the only thing about the spell that never changed. We hoped that at the end of everything, that would count most. That the lake would know how good and desperate we were, that it would give us back this woman we both considered our own. Jimmy told me one time “Andy, I ain’t ever wanted something to work out as badly as I do now.” I told him how I had started seeing her ghost everywhere. He took my left hand with both of his and smiled with his baby teeth.
« Cities and Museums
“ I agree entirely, and it’s my favorite thing about being in New York City. But! Just yesterday, someone did try to talk to me at the Met. It was pretty lousy. I was sitting in a corner sketching when:
‘Oh! That’s pretty good.’
‘I draw too, sometimes.’
‘Oh yes. Sometimes I take pictures of things to draw at home.’
‘Oh yes. All the time.’
And then she walked away. I like the thought of connecting with strangers, you know, brief encounters that change lives, relationships that aren’t meant to last. That stuff. But I really only like the thought of it. I’d like to keep it theoretical. Cowardly, sure. I mean, sometimes when I feel particularly plucky, I try to meet everyone in the world. But otherwise…”
“That’s an amazing conversation. I don’t think anyone’s approached me like that ever. You know what I think? I think I’m probably suffering because nobody’s approached me. All of my conversations along those lines have been purely theoretical, and thus romanticized beyond recognition. In fact, it makes a lot more sense that the anti-climax you described would be norm and the mystery and charm I’ve attached to the notion is really just the atrophy of reality being spun out by my spurned brain.”
“I think that sometimes it is nicer to keep the romanticized hypothetical scenes than actually live through the disappointments. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s kind of shit either way.”
“Of course it’s shit. It’s turtles all the way down.”
Cities and Museums »
“Have you ever successfully interacted with a stranger in a museum? I had one of those experiences today, very odd. Not sure if it really happened.”
“What was your conversation! It’s never happened to me, and I’m kind of glad for that. As much as I like to make eye contact on streets and whatnot, I feel more triumphant if no one approaches me. Keeps the dream alive.”
“As a matter of fact, it’s never happened to me either. It was as though this individual and I were either passing through the museum together, or randomly passing through the museum at the same magnitude and direction. Very strange, as though I wanted to impart upon them the willfulness of being near me (surely an imposition of my ego upon them), but at the same time could not gather enough evidence to decide that they’d have nothing to do with me. A museum, I think, is the perfect place for such an unintelligible interaction, or rather an interaction that even as it seems actual is probably just as imaginary. There’s no way to know whether what you imagine and what is happening will actually align, or if they are just slipping past each other in a way dictated by the flow of exhibits and the mutual interests in content that supposedly drew disparate actors to the singular stage in the first.”
“Similarly. This guy and I walked a good few minutes together, same turns, same pauses. So together meaning near each other. And I remember thinking that to anyone passing by, it would probably look like we were actually walking together, as if this were our routine work-to-home walk or something. Sort of silly, but I was a little sad when we stopped walking together. I made a left turn back onto sixteenth; he went straight. It felt like winning a game, walking together. Except, I don’t know if he was playing, so I guess it’s not much of a game.”
“Did you want to have a conversation? Where were you walking? Cities have an odd way of making everyone a stranger and somehow less strange simultaneously, I’ve found.”