by kathleen maher
pictures by rhoda penmarq
10) I Play The Idiot
Every seat is taken. I have to stand on stage and say what I believe.
I can’t go on—it’s over!
Because here’s the catch: I really do have to believe what I say. At last night’s meeting—after nonstop weeks—tired, bored, fed up—I found myself impersonating a doltish school teacher. I blinked and sighed. “Pencils sharp? Erasers ready—”
I looked around, hand shielding my eyes, and said, “Well, what have we here? A test of faith!”
“Anyone?” I waited and waited a few beats more.
“Well then,” I said, “Why don’t we come back to that later. How about an easy one? Like the meaning of life, sex, and death?”
The participants sat glassy eyed and dumb.
“Now come on, class. What do we think we’re doing here?”
There were giggles. “Want me to tell you?”
“Yeah, tell us,” a woman in the back called out.
“Tell us something.” I think it was my friend Bailey. Beaming recognition, I asked her to stand up.
And then I forgot the question. Finger to my chin, I said, “Where was I?” And the audience laughed.
Bailey (or someone who looks just like her) said, “The meaning of life, sex, and death.”
“Oh right, right! I know that one.” More laughter.
“It’s simple really, just hard to describe.” I scratched my head. It’s…it’s, right on the tip of my tongue...”
I played the idiot. Fun, fun, fun! The take topped three thousand, our best yet.
11) What Do I Care
I left the stage twelve hours ago; I go back on tonight. Am I frightened? Mortified? Exhausted? I am a void—personified!
Except you can no longer tell from the outside. My almighty, anonymous needs still rage. The shop’s closed, the kitchen’s gutted. All those tarts and strudels, cheesecakes, brownies and donuts don’t exist at the moment. And maybe because I wear the muslin gown as much as he wants (or else I was so easy he lost interest), Carlos has no renewed interest in what I eat or drink. And my routine has changed.
I take long walks alone. This morning as I crossed the Plaza del Lago shopping mall, Carlos appeared, silently, coolly in sync with me. We traversed the small terrace and he stroked my left side. We leaned into a brick corner and he hoisted me a bit in the air.
And I, reeling with desire and distaste, writhed, resisted, and succumbed. All the while inadvertently catching the eye of a woman loading groceries into a green Volvo. She shrugged and smiled. I twisted my head and wiggled my hands, signaling her: this is not what it looks like. The woman slammed her car door and comically saluted.
Was she saying, “I know; I’ve been there”?
Or, was it more, “What do I care?”
And then it hit me that that’s my perennial question: what do I care? Anytime anyone misunderstands me, I’m ready to die. My life seems to depend on getting the population at large to take my side.
12) Nondenominational Has Its Privileges
Carlos is out securing hotel rooms for us for the next few weeks. The shop and its bought-out neighbors are totally gutted. I can either pace through the wreckage as I have for hours, or I can tap on my laptop as I am now. Either way, my presence is negligible. Whether I stay or go—out to a movie, or for a walk, a newspaper, a drink, whatever: everything everywhere is crashing all around me! Everything’s packed but the sound system. Gregorian chants of Benedictine monks fill my bare, crate-stacked rooms. How long since I’ve eaten solid food? Naked in front of the mirror, I can feel my ribs.)
So okay, I admitted it weeks ago! Tyler reminds me of Colin! Now can I get dressed? Now will I be able to eat? Or if not eat—thinking of him (them) my skin feels so tight—I can at least drink: I’ll start with what’s left of Carlos’s gin. And then, when that’s not enough, for how could it be? I’ll head downtown to see if the bar where Colin and I used to drink, illegally underage, still exists.
Colin and I used to come here on weekends; Sammy’s was the only place that didn’t card us. Now everything except the name has changed. Something about the lighting back then, plus, I think, a mechanism in the floor, created an illusion of speed. A lush female impersonator played the piano and sang bawdy old blues songs while the whole place seemingly hurtled through space.
Now the light is steady and bright enough for reading. The music is piped in, and really, pretty much white noise. Predictable, insipid changes or not, the strangest thing about wandering into Sammy’s was how unstrange it was. How unexpectedly normal it made me feel. I’m finishing a spanakopita platter—Sammy’s Greek food stayed on the menu—when Carlos calls me from the Swiss Crown Hotel. He’s booked us for two weeks in a suite costing seven hundred and fifty per.
“Per what?” I asked. “Per night, of course.” (Of course.)
“We need it, so we can work; so we can think.” (Oh well, in that case...)
All the other places he looked at seemed cramped. (I’m sure.)
Our suite has a plasma TV. Which reminds him—he’s bought himself some clothes. “Nondenominational has its privileges.” (Right.)
“A joke. Wait ’til you see this place, Malcolm. The view is incredible!” (I bet.)
But I’ve still got one more night before Mad Mike and company rip out and haul away the last wall and floor board of my only home.
“Maggie will pick you up. Where are you?”
Carlos the maestro-provocateur rolls up the cuffs of his gorgeous new celadon shirt and, pressing me from behind, clasps his hands over my belt. “Look at the view,” he whispers, resting his chin on my shoulder. But for once I shake him off.
The view is everywhere you look. All brilliant, thrashing Lake Michigan in one direction; all shining city in the other: the suite’s walls are solid glass.