Train

Short train rides change perception, rarely reality.

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Our coffee cups, still in the sink, a few crumbs on the counter, added to the house’s feel of empty and ignored as I enter in what was just a few hours ago, familiar.  You tried to clean up before we left but I wanted to get started.  I have no idea why I was so anxious.

Actually, I do know why, both of us tired, the train trip back into the city seemed excruciating to me.  The night before we had the train practically to ourselves.  Oh, a few people sat in jolting, distant, silence, here and there within the train car we were in – an older gentleman, who thought you were my wife, sat across from where we stood.  I didn’t try to dissuade him of his notion.  You had your back to him but I watched him watching us.  Though your hair was pinned, somehow, high upon your head soft curling strands fell down upon the curve and back of your neck — small glints of silver gray, unashamed, glistened upon your temples.  Your eye makeup, slightly smudged from blinking and rubbing fatigue, only seemed to make your appearance softer.  You insisted upon standing, claiming you preferred it but we both knew you were simply fighting sleep.  I looked away from you to hide a smile and caught the old man looking at us — his expression, a sort of longing look, perhaps envy.

So I turned back to you, looked down upon your face, pale, sleepy, beautiful.

I opened up my arms, grasping the cold metal bars above your hands.  You blinked and looked up at me.  A small frown between your eyes and I realized you were questioning me.  Was I really inviting you to step forward, place your head upon my shoulder, lean in?  Gently I inclined my head toward my shoulder.

No sarcasm just rest. Trust me a little.

You did.

You moved forward and I lost sight of you but for the first time, beyond the casual handshake or the quick friendship hug, I felt you.

Your body against mine, resting.

For the first time in years, I was slammed with continuous, slightly frenzied thought.  I was terrified I would have an erection and then terrified I wouldn’t, then terrified I was having those types of thoughts about a woman who was diametrically different from me in almost every way.  And then I caught sight of the old man again, he winked at me and smiled and quickly looked away.

Was he afraid I’d try to explain?  Hey, she isn’t my wife, she’s the most aggravating, mind-bending, hawkish woman I’ve ever met.  I became conscious of your weight against me and realized I was the only one on the train stressing.  Stressing like some overwrought prom date.  So I lowered my arms along the bars to encase you further against me and I felt a small shiver move between us.  You seemed to radiate heat within my protective circle; a heat I was aware of but not consumed by, a heat that was meant for me to know of, but not to know.  A heat that so few women are aware they possess, that permeates their body when approached like the opening of a leaf when finally in sunlight long enough.  A power really, that is self-contained, yet subconsciously utilized.

I thought about saying that aloud but I could hear your scoff, your “masculine conceit,” argument and so remained silent.

I continued to watch nothing out the window, the flash of lights as the train moved quickly from the old city to where I lived, alone in the new housing.  I thought of the many times I had made this trip by myself, exuberant from a time on the town, ready for solitude and rest.  Would I feel that way again?

The train began to slow, our stop tonight, mine alone later.  I felt your reluctance to move so I moved my chin against your forehead, felt your soft skin beneath me.  I could feel the old man watching and I most desperately did not want you to thank me.  I felt myself stiffen as if waiting for a tight-fisted blow but you didn’t even look up.  You placed your hand upon the center of my chest as if touching me was something you did often, and softly pushed yourself away.

The train stopped and the rattle of the doors opening and the cold air of late night, early morning, coursed into the car.  I glanced back.  The old man was watching, again his look of envy or remorse upon his face, but he wasn’t looking at me, he was looking at you.  We stepped toward the door and your hand was in mine.  You never held my hand before and I did not feel incredulous but suddenly concerned for you.

The doors shut behind us and we began moving away from the platform, toward my house, my small world I had let you invade, on my invite, for a few days.

“Do you think he rides just to pass the time?”

I looked away from your face, your sad voice but re-gripped your small hand in mine and said nothing.  I did not realize you had even noticed the old man.  Rebukes flooded my mind.  What did you care, you who feel overtaxed, and burdened by the world, what could you care about one lonely old man.  I remained silent and we continued to walk because your rebuke would make sense too.  Why was he alone, when could society take the place of an individual’s touch?

The street was dark, my house darker.  My hand trembled as I inserted my key into the lock and opened the door.

I stepped aside and let you in first.

You walked down the long hall toward that narrow entry room that separated the dining room from the drawing room.  I watched you.  You placed your hand deep within your hair and pulled out the magic that held it aloft upon your head all evening.  I watched your hair cascade down and brush your shoulders.  You placed the magic absent-mindedly upon the small narrow table that belonged to my Mother and seemed destined for this narrow tall house, deep within this bohemian, suburban, sprawl.

Your back still to me, your hands went up and rubbed your temples and I could imagine your face, eyes closed and worried about the old man on the train.

I wanted to man up, wrap my arms around you, fight your hair ‘til I found your neck and place wet kisses there, feel the tension drain away and hear you sigh.  I wanted to work every inch and curve of your body against mine.  Maybe you were right, there might be a God, and He had a hand in making things fit.

The moment passed, I allowed it.

I let it pass and I let you walk to your room, close the door without saying goodnight and I sat up the rest of the night with very expensive wine and as far away from God as the day I decided He didn’t exist.

You told me not to stay with you at the airport, that you’d be fine and I honestly felt that you meant it.  You seemed relieved to be there, to be boarding a plane back to your beloved Chicago.  Dark circles under your eyes and your hair disheveled and sexy, the waiting area for your flight suddenly seemed to lift your spirits.

I thought seriously for a moment about leaving.  We were adults, behaved like adults, and didn’t have a thing to worry about or remember tonight.  But to your annoyance, I stayed and I wanted you to take my hand and I wanted to put my arm around you while we waited but you read your book and I paced the floor.

A call to board.

Why had I waited for this moment?  What did I face now?  A quick, friendly hug, a joke, a laugh –next year in Chicago.  But you had caught on, hadn’t you?  You straightened your back, shrugged your bag higher up on your shoulder, and waited for me.  For one moment, one glorious moment, I thought, yes, I surrender.  I surrender and there is no way in hell that you can stay but I don’t care the enormity of pain watching you board that plane will be worth one honest square moment.

I asked you what the weather was like in Chicago.

The weather.

You didn’t say anything, smiled a small smile, gave me a quick kiss and was gone.

And now I’m standing in this house.  Sunlight streaming into the windows, dust motes floating in the air and the sound of a distant city on a Sunday afternoon.

I waited for the telephone to ring, had visions of you at my front door but the house remained quiet.  I told myself, as I settled in and cooked my evening meal peace and tranquility had settled back into my house.

I preferred to be alone, admired from a distance, known for my austerity and non-hypocritical friendship, I was a haven for my friends.

Darkness and I still waited for the telephone to ring.

I broke down, washed your coffee cup from the morning, and placed it away with the others.  I went upstairs and entered the guest room.  I could smell your perfume, knew that I would.  I told you to leave the bed that I’d wash the sheets for the next guest.  I pictured myself naked chest down upon your sheets, shook my head and roughly pulled the bedding up ignoring your sent and stumbled out the bedroom door.

I washed everything.  My small machine and I worked.  I sweated hanging your sheets in the basement to dry, smelling now like laundry detergent.

No one at the door, no telephone ringing, I grabbed my keys, locked the front door and started walking.  An all-night coffee house down the street.  I took you there a couple of days ago.

The coffee house was expensive but good.  I took no book, no electronic gadget, I just watched the quiet Sunday evening world move by.

And oddly enough I didn’t look for you.

You are gone.

I looked for the old man.

I saw my partial reflection in the depth of the coffee cup.  I saw my reflection, dimly, in the darkened windows of the shop.  I tried to look beyond myself, out to the suburb and city I know, but my reflection was in the way.  My hair, silver, my expression somber, my shoulders still broad, not stooped, not yet.  What would we look like sitting there together?

What did we look like sitting there?

My hand didn’t tremble at all when I pushed the key into the lock and shoved open my front door.  The door did not creak and the floorboards beneath me did not moan.  The house was dark; I switched on the light and stood in the long hall.  There where you left them, were the magic hairpins upon my Mother’s table.  I picked them up and held them in my hand.  Smooth, warm, small; how could something so compact help defy gravity?  I placed them back down on the table, arranging them how you had left them.  I walked up the stairs, into the barren guest room, laid down on the bare mattress, smelling faintly of your perfume.

If I Entered Hell

My Beatrice would be a monk with whom I would never confess I was in love with

If I became the female self of Dante

I would hope that Hans Rookmaaker would be my Virgil.

Hell then would be a circular art gallery, a gradual, seven story spiral ending in an ice box.

And within the ice box perhaps Monet, paint brush in hand.

Frozen in the act of painting light, a perplexed look on his face.

“Where is the sensation?” — his eyes would ask; sensation being the only reality of life

for him.

I would ask my guide if I should tell him that he is dead — and my guild would shake his head,

no.

‘Monet lives at last, he feels the cold of his encased death.’

And my guide would pity me, and take me to my Beatrice — a monk who writes the classics and beautifies the deep well walls of knowledge.

There I would stay never saying I was deeply in love with him.

 

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

 

It’s Not Difficult

You can enter my mind through my heart

Just so you know, staying up late is not good for me, I’m a morning person.

Weary, I’ve stepped out on to my high tower ledge and found the big dipper just overhead;

Close but not touchable.

So, I point the momentum North and ride the will to survive into the icy cold.

The bay is rocky smooth, Superior ice blue and now I feel safe away from you.

Odd, I don’t fear the scythe-man and am terrified of you.

A vulnerability is impossible to live with.

The levitation is sudden, the atmosphere heavy, ripping down my body as I move up

No nest is a temptation from this lofty spot where I see the seas spin deep frothing white.

The ghosts step along the streets their staffs diamond willows that no one but a few knows exists.

Sit down across from me and answer my questions

Answer me

Love is what you’re best at, that is obvious while I ponder the ideology of believing in death

And not God.  So answer me, what has the world come to?

To each their own, to each their own.

To the west, to the east what was once frozen has dropped upon my front door and taken

The Limberlost

No, no she has simply gone deep as the stars have gone just out of reach

Don’t be afraid, I won’t ask any questions you can answer

You can get into my mind through my heart.

Please answer my question.  It’s not difficult.

 

Photo by Alfonso Ninguno on Unsplash

I Shall Not Reenter That Prison

Yet, I’m completely calm as Huron raves, slinging her water spout and waves.

Longing and yearning are simply not tortures I put myself through

There was a day, not too long ago, I would allow the heart to ache

Until I read Keats and was truly unimpressed and admired only his words.

 

I was born in the century where hell came through the school room floor

It expanded into large gymnasiums and Olympic-sized pools

History became a way to demoralize my faith and mathematics, God.

 

Can you hear me?  Can you hear me shout from atop my high mountain?

Down here where the seas storm taking down the souls of poor sailors

Yet, I’m completely calm as Huron raves, slinging her water spout and waves.

 

Oh beauty, if you could only feel the numbing cold and sharp water

Feel the hurt of winter and hear the cry of gulls

To feel the shock of warmth standing naked before the fire

 

Don’t you see?  Can’t you understand?

It’s the burden of inhibition, the burden of self-preservation that separates us

I’ve shed the pretense of beauty, I shall not reenter that prison.

She Still Loves You, Sir Walter Scott

“The only thing I’m saying is that if you want a good example, for your class, of what an oxymoron is, use ‘nice guy.’” She felt that sinking, suffocating sensation that she always felt when around him and wondered why she wasn’t home reading.

He was seven years younger than her; tall, slender, with large amber brown eyes, and a wooly but trimmed beard. They were employed together by the Jefferson County School System. She taught freshman English as a way and means to write literary prose on her fall, winter, and summer breaks (when she was in elementary school those breaks had titles such as Halloween, Christmas and thanked God, it’s summer vacation). He taught fourth-grade with a concentration in Mathematics. They were aware of each other or rather she was aware of him because he always sat in the front row of the Teacher’s Union meetings. She sat in the back and graded papers that lead her to seek professional help.

That’s where they met. He was walking out of his therapy session with Dr. Monroe while she was walking in, deep in thought and wanting to purge the sick feeling of guilt she felt for reading Ivanhoe for the fourth time in three years. She was startled by the fourth-grade teacher’s appearance, and he smiled at her.

“Do I know you?”

She blinked and felt her nose begin to itch and the inevitable wetness that sidetracks all social discourse. Frantically she looked in her purse for a tissue, “Um no, sorry,” she sniffed. He took a tissue from the box on the receptionist desk and handed it to her. She took it gratefully and spoke over the fourth-grade teacher’s shoulder, to the receptionist. “Sorry I’m late, will she still see me?”

“Yes, Ms. Miller.”

She turned back to him who had stayed and was apparently looking her up and down. “You know,” he said, “I think you look familiar.”

“I teach at Jefferson High. Freshman English. I’ve noticed you at the Teacher’s Union Meetings.”

“Ahh, because I sit up front.” He smiled and adjusted his backpack across his shoulders. “Will you be at the freshman basketball game tonight?” She looked at him as if he had grown three heads, “No. I don’t care for basketball.” She turned around and walked toward the Doctor’s office door.

“Wait one minute Ms. Miller; Doctor is not quite ready.” She huffed at the strident demand of the receptionist. She turned, the fourth-grade teacher was still standing there. She wondered if the ‘Doctor,’ wasn’t recouping from some wild tryst with the young man in front of her.

“I teach fourth grade, with a concentration in mathematics.”

“Yes, you’ve mentioned that in the meetings.”

“And you’ve remembered.”

She felt herself reddening slightly. She wasn’t sure if he was referring to her age and therefore her weakening faculty of mind or if he thought that he had made an impression on her. So, she only smiled without meaning it and said, ‘yes,’ in a long drawn out breath.

Her rudeness didn’t seem to cause any self-examination regarding his manners. “Well, we should have coffee together sometime and compare notes.”

“Ms. Miller, the Doctor is ready for you.”

“Sure, we should do that.”

She didn’t realize that she had committed herself. On the afternoon, just before the long winter break (that would be spent preparing, for the principal and three vice principals another plan for teaching freshman English and a dissertation on why grades were so low), she looked up to see him standing at her classroom door.

“Hi!”

“Hello.”

Did you receive my emails?”

She thought for a moment that she would feign complete ignorance and check her spam, but she was too tired and only said: “Yes, I did.” Annoyed at having to confess her remissness she thought wildly of asking him why he didn’t ask for her kerchief or go gallantly out in her name to right wrongs.

“Didn’t want to answer me huh?” He looked a bit crestfallen, and guilt crept along her neck and wisped about her ankles in a cold little chill.

“No, I didn’t. I’ve been kind of busy.”

“Yeah, the rumor is that you really do try and teach Freshman English. That must be burdensome. Why don’t you let me buy you a cup of coffee? We can go to the teacher’s lounge…”

“No.” her disdain was evident in one word, and she rose from her desk as if she was rising to command Nelson’s ship Victory.

“Excellent then let’s go over to a nice little coffee shop I know.”

She looked outside, the clouds were low, and it had begun to snow in earnest. She felt tired and longed for her little apartment uptown above the yoga center. The landlord had made a deal with her on the rent three years ago, because of the late hours and the weird music that came up from the old furnace vents. She didn’t mind because she kept her classical music plugged in and the heat low – it helped her write.

“Why don’t you come to my apartment and I’ll make us coffee.” She was hoping he would refuse, but he readily agreed.

They had coffee. He left in time for her to order a medium plain pizza with cheese in which she ate three-quarters and then made herself sick. Something she hadn’t done since she was a teenager and had fallen in love with Sir Walter Scott of Waverly fame. She tested transcendentalism in hopes of eventually uniting with her writing icon which sent her parents running back to their Catholic faith.

She was looking at him now wondering what and who a ‘nice guy,’ really was and if he had married someone else and was tripping over kids and wondering what happened to her.

“Do you think we should start a relationship?” he asked.

“What?” She shook her head; she wondered if she had been falling asleep.

“I spoke to Dr. Monroe about the two of us, and he said an older woman (not too much older, mind you) might be a good experience for me.”

“An experience.” She said, deadpan and weary.

“You never know,” he said shyly and smiled, “it might last.”

She took a deep breath, letting herself for a moment breathe in his perceived freedom and open minded aura and felt within her throat and lungs the sharp pain deception.

“’Nice guy,’ young man, is not an oxymoron. I’m too old to be your girlfriend is not an oxymoron, and I’m not going back to that shrink who agrees with you that everyone on has a commodity status…”

“No, that’s not what I mean. I didn’t…”

“You didn’t ask me out for a cup of coffee so that you could lose your virginity, I know. You are so predictable you know, despite being told all your life that you are unique.

“So is Sir Walter Scott,” he said hotly.

“No, we just haven’t come up with anything original since. We’ve only managed to redefine words, concepts, and morals to appease our insecurities. We’ve done it until we’ve come up with a human like you, who believes there is no such thing as an oxymoron. You don’t, you know, you don’t even know enough to be honestly self-deprecating.”

He sat and stared at her for a moment. She could see he was struggling. He stood, “Well, I’ll just take care of this bill and when you feel like you can speak to me with some respect, let me know.”

She gave him no reply while he hesitated and then left. She ordered another strong coffee and felt cold. Perhaps a priest would understand her love for a dead novelist and poet better than a psychologist. Sipping her coffee and watching the fourth-grade teacher walk away.

 

No Make Believe

Makes little difference to me, the lifting wind that brushes the sun darken oak leaves up. The sylvan world moves from dark to light in shifting shades of green-

Makes little difference to me, the lifting wind that brushes the sun darken oak leaves up. The sylvan world moves from dark to light in shifting shades of green-

Means little to me.

I care not for the song of the lark or the longing flight of the cardinal for his mate. The scarlet dark against the shifting green all directed by who knows what; so why care for the cause of a hidden effect?

I could care less.

And I do not mind the boom of guns nor the crack of the whip that separates me from those I should love. What does their life matter as I have been taught that only my life should revolve my world?

What matters the words written that saves souls?

I think little of peace or what contentment is and soon all theses distractions I mention will falter due to lack of attention.

How could the world continue to spin without my permission?. Oh, and by the way, I most certainly don’t believe in evil.

 

We Lose and We Win

I was coming down off a serious high and the police brought me into the drunk tank, found out after I had been raped by the local female gorilla (yes women rape other women), that I was underage and with all abject apology tucked me into an upper scale dry-out clinic.

“Where you go, I shall go also.  Your God shall be my God.”  The book of Ruth.

That’s a paraphrase I’m afraid.  I know being a child of the 21st century this may sound either condescending or an out and out lie but I prefer the King James Version the best.  There is something about the King James version of the Bible that is more poetic, more believable.

She wasn’t my mother-in-law but she was widowed when I met her.  I was coming down off a serious high and the police brought me into the drunk tank, found out after I had been raped by the local female gorilla (yes women rape other women), that I was underage and with all abject apology tucked me into an upper scale dry-out clinic.

I met her there she was a volunteer mentor to under advantaged girls like me.  Now her idea of upper scale and my idea were two different things and at first I just didn’t like her.  She was an old widowed Jew who, I felt, was there just to see how the outer echelon lived outside her pampered world.

“What was your mother’s name?”

“Why was?  My Mom’s name is Kathy.  Some call her Kate.  She wanted to be called Kate but she decided that way too late in life, it never stuck.”

“Why isn’t Kate here?”

“Why should she be?”

“Because she is your mother,” she said quietly.  To her the fact that Kate was my mother obligated her to come and see about me.

“Kate never cared about me, she never will and that, is they say is that.  Where’s your mother?” I asked. She was old as dirt and I knew her mother was dead but decided to be cruel our first meeting so she wouldn’t come back.”

“With God,” she replied

“Does she like it better there?”

“I would think so,” she said evenly and looking me directly in the eye.  I got the feeling that the interrogation was all on my side but I was feel less and less in control.

“Right, like she has a choice.  God said that’s it and she had to go.”

“So you believe in God?”

“Sure, He’s a male, on the male side of everything and He created women so He and all his male buddies could be made to feel superior.”

She laughed out loud.  She laughed with real mirth and her eyes went from a slate gray to a brilliant blue and all the wrinkles in her face softened and crinkled to her forehead.  I was feeling like I had been kicked several times (I knew how that felt) and my mouth was dry and I knew my breath was rank from not eating but I had to laugh at her laughing at me.

It was the first time I felt as if I didn’t know it all and that fact was okay.  It was the first time I felt that I could put all my observed ideas before someone who wouldn’t tell me I was wrong but tell me how to see my observations from another view point.

I was incarcerated for three years in a juvenile detention center and for three years I had no choice but to dry out.  She came every Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening.

“What’s it like being a Jew?  Did you go through the Holocaust?”

“What’s it like being a Christian?  Did you go through the Inquisition?”

She was good with things like that.  She taught me that I couldn’t have the same feelings as her and she couldn’t have the same feelings as me – we could compare notes and meet on mutual ground, sometimes we couldn’t even do that.

“Do you think I’d make a good Jew?”

“No.”

It was the first time I laughed out loud at her and she smiled and I could tell almost cried.  I don’t know what happened but at that moment, beyond the book recommends, the letters we wrote, the drug rehab and the mourning we shared, it was the first time we were miles apart culturally and never closer spiritually.

“Women need women,” she said.

I suddenly began to talk of my rape, why I ended up in a better place than all of my other drug induced cohorts.  She frowned slightly and leaned forward listening, intently – interrupting only to bring my language up when I felt the power of hopelessness overcome me.  “Genitles,” for “cunt.” “Penetration,” for “fucked,” and so on.  I was sweaty and chilled when I finished telling her of my night in lock up.

“My husband came from a long line of Jews – as you call me.  Some of his family wore the traditional garb.  He was more liberated and though he celebrated the holidays and the Sabbath, his diet wasn’t kosher, nor was his ideas strictly that of his more conservative family members.  Our marriage was arranged.  Yes, even in this country.  It was many, many years ago.  I came from a very wealthy family and my dowry was large.  I did not have to marry him; I could have refused but I wanted to feel a part of my ancient heritage.  I was young and thought doing rather than thinking was the way I should go.  He was brutal.  He could only come to a sexual climax by cruelty.  My children, I have three who lived, were begot in horrific ways.  It was not their fault.”

“What happened?  How did you survive?”

“I had him murdered.  I could not stand one more rape.  I had begged for a divorce and I had run away with the children but he would fine me.  You must understand that many men of all races and cultures are like this.”

“Is that why you laughed at me when I described God to you?”

“Perhaps.  I simply saw a young, hurt woman lashing out upon a Being you had no concept of; your anger was against your circumstance and you had placed God as a sort of surrogate of that circumstance.  Not surprising as you are a Christian and your Church teaches that Christ has paid the price for your sins.  Not a bad plan but it does have its repercussions on the human mind. I think Christians are the front runners for blaming God for everything.”

“But what happened?  How are you here?”

“I got away with it dear.  I paid for his demise and no one is the wiser, except now for you.”

I stared at this white haired old lady, her bright blue eyes shining.  I was dumbfounded.

“Dear girl, I only tell you because you have grown tremendously in the three years we have known each other.  Let this be our parting gift to each other – bad happens, we lose and we win but through it all God grants a chance at human connection that make the bad bearable and the good a humbling experience; not all take advantage or cherish that connection.”

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