by kathleen maher
pictures by rhoda penmarq
I have not looked at Carlos once since the meeting. I have not even come close enough to looking at him to know whether he’s noticed I’m not looking at him.
Oh, I’ve maintained. Being around him. But it’s required tremendous effort. Like walking around with the flu. Just sitting up takes will power, just keeping my eyes open.
The need to lie down in a darkened room and let my hatred of him run through me is almost insurmountable.
12) Further Indignities
I will fire him. Today I held steady even as he slunk around, brushing up against me! His repulsive hand on my shoulder. His long swift fingers alighting at my sides, as he dipped behind me for a knife or slotted spoon. “Excuse me, Slim,” his knuckles oh-so-lightly jiggling the extra bit of flesh at my waist.
“Everyone needs to know and say why they’re alive.” The man had gall!
“You know,” he said, his voice a milk-and-honey parody of seduction,
“I used to love to talk about my spiritual life. Maybe it was the times, the zeitgeist. When you’re young you can say anything. When you’re my age, more and more important things become unpronounceable.”
13) I Have to Admit
Here’s his argument (Yes, Carlos is still here. And yes, I am going to fire him!): The media constantly give us pictures of skeletal children; ethnic-racial-religious wars; ritual mayhem; close ups of endless brutality and disease. Thus, my speech about worship far from qualifies as a disaster.
“Every once in a while, Malcolm, you ought to take a peek outside your shell.”
Much as I detest him, I have to admit:
Even if the man did trick me into calling worship a kind of perversion, even if the whole thing was just as ugly as I think it was—so what? My personal humiliation simply doesn’t register on the Richter scale.
14) How Wrong I Was
Carlos and I have spent the last forty-eight hours together. All my senses are heightened and I know: Something good is going to happen. Absolute knowledge gives off a humming sound that intensifies after a while to a constant a buzz. Imminent good runs through all my perceptions, waking, sleeping, and in between.
Two days ago, the skies dumped three full feet of snow on city and suburb. And now, forty-eight hours later, the blinding, howling army of snow devils shows no sign of letting up.
Cars and trucks can not make it through. They’re lost inside towering drifts. There is no other news. Life in Chicago has stopped. The CTA is at a standstill. The piercing beeps of plows making minimal progress are incessant. And—Carlos is with me.
That’s the main thing, Carlos is with me!
Maggie took Saturday off.
And Stephanie left hours before the first flake drifted through the air; she’d heard reports.
Carlos, on the other hand chose that static afternoon, a day oppressive with the impending blitz, to experiment with breads. Four new recipes had come to him in a dream. I started warning him around two-thirty that if he didn’t leave he was going to get stuck. (And to think that up until last month he was always gone before noon!)
“Look out the window!” I shouted; snow wasn’t so much falling as blasting horizontally past. “You want to get trapped in that? You want to freeze to death?”
He said, “You’re too young to remember but it used to snow every winter.”
I nodded, yeah, sure, of course it snowed like this all the time. “But didn’t you go home before the el froze to a standstill?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it.” Carlos sprinkled sesame seeds on bread dough.
Fine; get stranded. Carlos should have left an hour ago. Promising to follow his instructions to the letter, promising he could taste the results of his dream-visions tomorrow providing the plows got through, I handed him his coat and hat.
So. . . He’s slept on my couch the last two nights. He’s shaved in my sink, bathed in my tub.
He has a tattoo on his right shoulder blade, a bluish-green dragon taking flight and breathing fire. Thirty minutes before going to sleep and the same upon waking, he meditates, meaning he sits cross-legged, hands on his knees, palms up, his slow, deep breathing involving an erratic hissing sound.
With the blizzard, Carlos has stopped taunting me. His reptilian gestures against the backdrop of falling snow look more like natural subtle grace than anything calculated. But I’ve caught myself wondering if this, too, is part of his plan, a way of manipulating me.
Except he couldn’t have planned how much snow would fall, or for how long. Clearly my suspicion of Carlos, my distrust and dislike, have been misguided, a reaction to the fact that I’ve always been so dependent on him as a baker. And then when he usurped my dream of the New C. of C.—well, no wonder I hated him!
No more, though. In the sharp glints playing off the brightness of this newly white world I can see how wrong I was. Tonight we ate Spanish rice and drank red wine which he’d bought during the hushed white afternoon.
He went out several times, for a razor, a comb, cumin, green peppers, wine. And returned each time with state-of-the-neighborhood information: most food and liquor stores were open, but no laundromats or dry cleaners. A group of children tried to coax their German Shepherd to pull their sled.
While Carlos waited to buy condoms (because, he explained, militant ascetic though he be, without a fresh handful in his pocket he nonetheless feels in jeopardy), R.Ph. Stan Jenson sold a teenage boy a carton of Camel cigarettes. Maybe he asked for an I.D. card—Carlos didn’t see.
Most of the trains ran today; I heard them. Yet Carlos has said nothing of going home. At one point I started to invite him to stay indefinitely, but changed my mind, afraid of scaring him off. These last two days have been so blanketed, so quiet and white and separate, I want them to last forever.