Bash!–sudden stop–pain–broken tree branch, off the tree trunk, caught my forearm as I backhanded a chunk of oak onto the cord pile. Glove snagged on the splintered wood. Oak’s weight drove the blow deep into my muscle. “Shit, shit, shit, damn fool; watch what the hell you’re doing, shit,” I sang; my breath clouding before me in the coldness. Breathe. I stepped around the sticking branch, lowered the oak to the ground, and unhooked it from my glove’s fingertips. I rubbed the instant blossom of numbness; then the chronic, dull burn of deep bruise smeared into my forearm.
“Whaaaat?” Buddy asked from across the pile.
“Nothing really–just bruised the hell out of my arm,” I answered, trying to ignore the rising bruise burn. “It’s nothing; I think.” I wiggled the glove off and rolled up my sleeve. The dimpled mark of the limb’s jagged point lay sunk deep in my flesh, but the skin hadn’t broken. I wiggled my hand, working the muscles. “The stupid things I do; it’s a wonder I lived this long,” I said.
“Yeah, I know what you mean–my wife says that about me all the time,” Buddy said. The solid smell of oak whispered passed my nose as I slung the oak chunk on top of the wood stack with my other hand.
“Ain’t about nothing–I’ll live,” I said to Buddy, and went back to work–sweet, cold air.
“The older you get, the more dead people you know,”
Grampa Warner said as he eased back into the lounge chair on the patio. Dad flopped another burger over on the grill:
“That’s for sure. But that’s a funny way of saying it.”
“Well, life’s funny–isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is,” I answered from behind Grampa. He looked over a shoulder at me and smiled.
“Come here you little rascal. Little seven-year-old boys can get into trouble sneaking up on their elders.”
“Everyone’s my elder, Grampa,” I said as he hooked his arm around me and pulled me to him for a bear hug. Laughing, he said to Dad: “You’d better watch this one. He’s got a good combination of your logic and his mom’s dotty irony.
He’ll do well, I think; but . . . life’s a funny mystery.”
Joe rode his Harley into the back door of the old Plymouth, Belvedere. I saw the lady’s face flash in the windshield, large, round, and very white as he hit. We had just crossed sides of the lane and I’d taken the outside; Joe the in. She didn’t stop for the “Stop” sign. Didn’t look our way. Didn’t–just didn’t. I slid past the bumper as the heavy motorcycle drove into the thin door metal. From the thump, I knew Joe was dead.
The woman was crazed when I got back to the car. She had just met horror in the back seat of her car. She wailed hysterically and banged her fists against the hard plastic steering wheel. I rode in front of the car and set my bike across the lane. I went back to see Joe dead. “Lady!” I yelled. She didn’t hear me. “Lady, stop! You’ll hurt yourself.” I opened the door and caught her wrists. The big woman waved me back and forth a few times like a blade of grass. I planted my feet. “Stop!” I yelled again, and held her still for a moment. Her head turned jerkily to look at me. Slowly her squalling eyes focused on me. She stopped wailing and the sobs rose from her chest. I watched part of her soul fade from her puffy face. I pulled her from the car. “Look out for oncoming cars,” I told her, and twisted her towards the empty road behind us. I stripped off my leather jacket and laid it across Joe. The Belvedere could probably be fixed, I thought as I backed away to my bike.
We stand, watching her two new love birds eating in their cage, setting in my kitchen. “Kockey and Gigi,” she says. “Kockey, after my first bird. Gigi, after my Grandma’s bird–who she made very, very fat. All day long she was feeding that bird; cookies, nuts, apples.” She puffs out her cheeks; a fattened, enchanting bird. “She made it very fat; it couldn’t fly. You should name one.” “Moe and Larry,” flashes across my brainpan, but I shake my head. A mental smile of slapstick irony of two beautiful birds and a beautiful woman caught in a Three Stooges’ world drifts through my mind.
Sunlight through the kitchen windows glints the brass bars of the cage to gold. We watch this new world, passing potato chips and munching.
The two move off the cage floor and alight on a perch.
The white one, Kockey/Moe, walks the blue one, Gigi/Larry, slowly, purposefully to the end of the perch, while beak wrestling. Gigi/Larry retreats to the end of the perch and stops. I slide down the refrigerator door to sit on the floor; the condenser warmth eases an unnoticed pain in my lower back. She gracefully settles down; one knee to the floor, the other, foot to the floor; smoothly balancing a perch. Together we watch the birds, touch hands, and talk in baby language to them. “Oh look they are kissing,” she says, as the love birds move to their nature. Her smile is radiant. We watch the new love birds in the golden cage of the kitchen.
“Don’t touch the red penknife in the tool box,” Uncle John called from upstairs in the kitchen. Frying sausage and onions sounds floated down the steps with their aroma to me. I picked up the knife and lever-opened the blade. It didn’t look like anything special. I ran my finger down the blade and blood swelled from the slice. I dropped the knife and ran upstairs to Uncle John.
“Kid, I told you not to touch that knife,” he said as he squeezed one of Aunt Sally’s white kitchen towels on my finger. “Why’d you touch it?” I shrugged.
“Don’t know,” I said. He shook his head again.
“This is going to hurt, but you can take it–besides, you don’t have a choice,” he said as he ran warm water over my finger. The soap stung, but I gritted my teeth and let him work. He soon had it bandaged. I breathed out. “Come with me,” he said.
He picked the red knife from the floor, pulled a rag from the work bench, and wiped my blood from the blade.
“Look,” he said, holding the blade for me to see, “tell me what you see on this blade.” I looked.
“Lots of scratches,” I said.
“What can that tell you?” he asked. I shrugged. “Look a little closer. Those scratches you see are from a whetstone where this blade has been rubbed against and sharpened. See how the blade narrows to this fine, sharp edge.” I nodded. “That should tell you that this knife is sharp. Look, see and think Kid, think,” he said, poking a finger at his forehead.
“Yeah, that’s all I wanted to know; how sharp it is,” I said.
“To find out how sharp a knife is, don’t run your finger down the blade, draw it across like this.” He drew a finger across the blade’s edge and held it up for me to see. No blood. He closed the knife and laid it up on a rafter shelve and said, “Got it?” I nodded. “Okay, come on, let’s eat.”
Eye saw, but I didn’t
what was mine,
but a mine like a dream can explode
Altar will alter
but like thyme to sweet,
A part chasmed apart
one to two, again?
I remember every detail of her. TV commercials, random snatches of music from passing cars, the aroma of swordfish steaks on the grill, everything, everything, is haunted with her. These memories splinter me to remember, but I dream of one moment with her:
A rare, free day on a Friday led us to a momentary escape at the “Respite. Hot Tub: A mini vacation from life.”
We met at my home and spent an hour of love and passion nursed on with a double dose of Viagra. We lay, breathing after our second time of joining essences. She moved away. I tried to recover.
“Come,” she said from the bathroom, “it’s time to go. I’ve never been to a hot tub.”
“You’ll like the bubbles,” I said, as I moved my fifty-seven year old body back into my clothes. She stood before the bathroom mirror, brushing her long hair.
“I’d like to get my hair cut,” she said, bunching it up at the back of her neck with a hand. She dropped it. “Like this,” she said, and sliced off two inches with a slice of her hand. “Shorter. But I don’t know. What do you think?”
I walked up behind her and looked at us in the mirror, making a mind picture for later. The sweet aroma of perfume, woman, and me melded with the reflection. “What do you think?” She repeated, looking over her shoulder at me. I kissed her cheek.
“I think you’ll look great. You always look great to me. Besides, I’d love you even if you’re bald.” She smiled and mystically said, “A bald singer,” and wiggled free from my arms.
“Come on, we must go.”
“Beer bottles clanked together when I picked up the bag she’d prepared for our adventure. We hurried to the car in the winter night.
“You really go outside naked–in the cold?” She asked.
“Sure.” I said, and stepped out into the cold December air, skittered across the hard wooden deck, and dipped my foot into the hot tub. “Perfect.” I slid into the water. I turned to watch her step naked into the cold. The Viagra, still active, acted in reaction to the hot water and the soft beauty of a naked woman.
“I don’t know,” she said, as she came from the dressing room door. She quickly walked through the beams of light on the deck floor, and slipped into the water, smiling at me.
“What’s that?” She asked, pointing.
I followed her point, smiled, “That, my beauty, is you, hot water, and leftover Viagra,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. “It’s what you do to me, Love. You know that.”
She came over to me.
“Do you think we should? She pointed again. “With the Viagra, that’s twenty,” she said, “but,” pointing to my heart, “that’s still fifty-seven–I don’t want to lose you.”
She brushed her hand across my attention. I shuttered; she glided away to turn on the bubbles and increase the heat. The water roared with the bubbles and she laughed. I leaned back into relaxation.
She came back and sat in front of me between my legs. I pressed against her back and found her nipples with my fingers. She leaned back. I pressed forward. The bubbles roared, and the water splashed into my mouth. She rose up, and slid down onto me. I quivered with sensation. I reveled in her silky warmth–all the pleasures of life; mystical. We joined, melted, melded, dissolved in pleasure and love with the water and drove our passion to one; longer, stronger; ego lost to the vast blackness; sublime; inseparable now from the moment of us.
The dream breaks. I roll over and wonder how–where she is, smile in the darkness, pull a pillow over my head to return to sleep. I rub my forearm and hug the pillow.
I remember: his face in the lighting of his pipe at night. The white flash to yellow flare sucked to the bowl. The whip of the wrist to stretch the flame out. And the deep red glow of burning tobacco. I remember: sweet garden peas, giant hands, the magic of spitting into a knot hole, the clank of horseshoes on peg, a phlegmy chuckle catching on age. Sucking on the pipe: the white flash to yellow flare sucked to the bowl glowing red; I remember.
Emily’s fly buzzes my eyes–flies in hospital white, no–flashes black-green through sunbeam cross bed. . .blank TV, corner . . . real light now! . . . dry air; Mary, Sally, Suz; children, faces, smiles: gone dinner . . . escape moment . . . old flesh smell . . . fly at nose—fly, worn comforter, walks cross faded rose to tickle . . . arm. . . .broken branch tired, faces; mom, tired full; light! Gray–black! light white–all light—————————————–. . . what . . . what . . . to see to sea . . . . . . . . . . . . why? . . . to die? . . .
“Thou hast a grim appearance, and thy face Bears a
command in’t; though thy tackle’s
torn Thou show’st a noble vessel.”