Whenever my mother explains why she does things she resents having to do she says, noblesse oblige, nobility demands it. She tells me we have a certain responsibility. We must live up to it.
When Frank MacLean hears his wife's car pull into the driveway, he logs off the online dating site and deletes his browsing history. He's gone south more than a few times to meet women in neighboring towns and each time he thought about how much easier every part of the process would have been if he'd been drunk. Trusting himself enough to meet at a bar, he instinctively set about to get the women drunk. Sometimes it worked just fine and other times the alcohol was what derailed the thing. Some women didn't appreciate Frank trying to get them drunk in a hotel bar while he stuck to ginger ale. One of them came right out and said he was quite a bit older and shorter than his profile said.
Being married ten years puts Frank at a disadvantage. He cannot post a photo and evidently, not posting a photo tells women that he's ugly, married or both.
This is supposed to be a love letter. The relationship will start in tears. One of the girls, in the hallway, will spit on the wall. It is a love letter. Later, a shield. The wall will be beige and the spit will be too, three-days-high beige. Tweaking at Disneyland phlegm.
Starting in tears, the relationship will, like a Spirit not a Force, distort the space between four women. Between two single girls. And their two single moms. One of the girls, getting bad cramps, will need to be alone in the showers. Alone, but with the other girl. (You have to put an “out of order” sign on the door to the girls room. Then no one will bother you.)
There will only be these girls. They will hijack the girls’ room. Impending doom will put on its costume, steal their clothes. They’ll have nothing to wear. Maniacal. Something to cover the fat the fat, something to cover, disguise the fat. Rampaging for clothes.
“You tell me,” Buzzard whispers in my ear. Buzzard and I made a baby, but that baby ain’t anything like we’d ever expected. Think of a doll the size of boy. Think of a mannequin plucked from the children’s section: vague and featureless. Buzzard and I are small and soft, malleable and hand-powered. Where had this blank and stiff being come from?
Tensing had said little during the drive and just navigated the potholes—gaping cavities now because of the rains—while muttering frustrated phrases in his language, which I assumed to be the equivalent of swearing. He spoke no French or Kreyol and a little English, which made our conversations somewhat forced. We were easing our way slowly out of the Artibonite valley in an unmarked Land Rover, free of the Agency insignia because of the riots and resentment which persisted in some of the smaller peyizan villages. A glance would inform any passers-by that Tensing was not from the island, not so much from his Asiatic looks but from his gruff gestures and habit of spitting out the window with a great deal more hacking and coughing than a Haitian. Agency drivers had a reputation for disliking us locals, but so far he hadn't said anything condescending. A cigarillo dangled from his lips, and he'd been chewing the end of it so that thin strands of tobacco fell into his lap.
It wasn’t until just after her fortieth year that she wanted to steal a baby. Marguerite had heard of this before. This kind of well-known lore, the kind of thing that floated in the air, no one questioning it or thinking twice. It was a well-known fact that women stole babies: it happened all the time. Middle-aged women or perhaps younger women who stole back the one they’d given up for adoption just before they’d changed their mind and now it was too late. But it was her own fault, people said, if she’d given it up. That’s too bad, she should have known better and she’d certainly no right to it now. Why should she think that it would want to receive any of the videotapes she kept trying to send to the new parents? Mothers who give away their babies should just stop bothering people and leave well enough alone. They should just suffer and not think they can get away with kidnapping their own child back.
Of course I remember the local Louisiana TV commercials. My favorite was for an army surplus store called Rambeaux. That’s right: R-A-M-B-E-A-U-X, upstanding the pop-Cajun love of ending o-words in eaux. Just a matter of time before we’re heading down to the bingeaux hall and eating peauxtateaux chips. Rambeaux had a song, of course, because every commercial had to have a song. But instead of using the prissy little “I’d like to buy the world a Coke,” let’s-all-hold-hands thing the national commercials used, Rambeaux used a military jingle. It’s a song about the store, but to the tune of “Sound Off” - the Marines’ one big hit if you don't count "Ballad of the Green Berets".
IV. Valia and Cantonist
Cantonist left the melancholy district center, which lay besprinkled with solar dandruff, to put in his compulsory military service. One must admit that it was impulsive of his mother to cry: Off to the army, Cantonist! Let them make a trombone out of you!
1. Veronica stormed off set and just kept going. She blotted her sweaty, heavily made up face with the linen scrap she kept in the pocket of her costume. Her costume, a copy of a gown worn by Madame de Montespan, a favorite mistress of Louis XIV, weighed fifty pounds. In the film, Summer Felicity, she does not play Madame de Montespan, but a fictional character named Felicity, the mistress of Guillaume Amfrye de Chaulieu, a renowned poet and wit of the 1680s. Craving solitude, she traipsed through a grove of sycamores, too embarrassed to acknowledge the prop girls downing Red Bull as they touched up the gold leaf on her palanquin. Fully aware of her mood, of the recent tabloids, of the rustling satin and dust cloud in her wake, they ignored her. Soon they were gone, and with them the klieg lights, the reggae blasting at craft services, and the director, perverted little Timmy, berating Dani, an ingénue ten years her junior.
Carla wasn't a waitress, but she played one in the diner. What she really wanted to do was take photographs. She used to tell me all about it as I sat there at the counter, ordering dishes almost blindly, and trying to make her laugh.
Carla was very thin and very, very pretty, and her voice seemed to come from far away. I'd try to ask her out as she came back from the tables, but I could never seem to find the words to say.
Then one day Carla told me a story. A story a friend of hers had told her. She said that if you went out to a field and closed your eyes, and tried to walk straight, you'd actually go in circles.
In circles? I said. Why would that happen?
I frowned; it didn't make any sense.
I don't know, Carla said. It's something about the brain. Maybe one side is more powerful or something.
Oh, I said.
It seemed to make sense.
I hate this place. I come here each morning at nine a.m. I am greeted with the frigidity of the security guard, dour and unwelcoming. The dim, fluorescent light offsets the purple faces of the secretaries. I know they all judge me. The big blue sign, emblazoned with the moniker SOS Business Solutions, looks smugly at me. I pause to grimace back at it. I hack loudly, drawing the attention of the desk ladies, buried under their binders and files. The skinny one doesn’t even raise her eyes at me. I swear she smirks.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. Sorry I missed you. My name is Ricky Galore and I have a lot of issues, I mean questions, for you. To start off, I’ve seen you live a few times at wrestling shows: at Maple Leaf Gardens versus Ricky Steamboat with my sister and dad when you were Intercontinental champ in the summer of 1986; then at Wrestlemania VI in 1990, then again at Maple Leaf Gardens two more times; once against Razor Ramon; once against Shawn Michaels in the early 1990s. I think around 1992.
Oumar towers over me, takes my sweaty white palm in his gentle hand, and leads me onstage. We’re in a packed theatre somewhere downtown, I have no idea where. The glare of the stage lights cocoons us from the mesmerized audience. Oumar burns his charcoal eyes into mine as the theme song from “Flash Dance...What a Feeling” starts to play. We glide across the stage, and then he swings me around, spins me, lifts my feet right off the floor, his lips nearly touching mine. I float through the air like a cloud, the soles of my red and black plaid sneakers scraping the wooden floor. I close my eyes, try to block out the hundreds of peering eyes, and breathe. Inhale the scent of his sweat-drenched body as we move, two lonely hearts beating in tandem. Tonight, we hold the world in our hands.
Leon is leaving Toronto tomorrow. Toronto is a city, a notion of a city, a city en route, a map, adrift, an imaginary allotrope of road and lake, grass and bone.
Leon, on Gibraltar Point beach: tossing smooth skipping stones at the lake’s surface sunrise. Plip, hop, plip, hop, plop. Again. Leon marvels: Lake Ontario looks like the sea from the far side of the Toronto Islands. Texture of blown glass, color a shade between ultramarine and turquoise. Whirling battery of water like light-tipped wings peaking, the shooshing whoosh of the lake’s frothy waves the morning’s drumbeat. Plip, hop, plip. Stop. Each thrown stone a line, a number, an item, a point, a bullet on the lists Leon is making in his head while he hovers on the shore.
“I’m taking my talents to South Beach,” the King said. Not to me, but to the Mayor. At least, that’s what Carl Gibson told me while we waited together in line at the bakery that morning. Carl was a good friend of the Mayor’s, they’d been neighbors for a while before the Mayor became the Mayor and moved into the house behind City Hall.
“I’m taking my talents to South Beach,” the King had said. According to Carl. “Tonight’s performance will be the last, and then I’ll be on my way.” Carl didn’t say if the Mayor had said anything back. If he had argued, tried to offer the King some reward for sticking around, or if he had just nodded and wished the King good luck.
A controversial talent show involving children is midway through taping when a man storms the television studio and takes over a hundred hostages. He’s armed with an explosive device, but expresses no motive and makes just one demand: an interview with journalist Thom Pegg. It’s a bizarre request, everyone agrees including Pegg. A disgraced former investigative journalist, caught fabricating sources, he’s down on his luck and working for a lad magazine in Los Angeles. Reluctant, but pressured by federal authorities, Pegg agrees to travel to the city in question and meet the hostage taker. In this passage, he’s just arrived and is waiting for his escort to take him inside the studio theatre.
THEY CHECKED PEGG INTO A HOTEL. A nice place. Crisp white lobby, staff liveried in chalk stripe.
It’s dusk on a Saturday, I’m out walking. There’s a man, unsteady on his feet, with a long, curled-handle umbrella. He’s holding it up to his shoulder like a machine gun, staring down the barrel and swiveling abruptly, a jungle commando, pausing to catch his image in the scratched Plexiglas window of the bodega. A small boy wanders out of the store and stands a few feet away, watching. The man pivots slowly, beginning to grunt and growl before he comes around to face the boy. The boy pulls his arms around himself and waits to see where this is going. So do I. The man hunkers down and grunts his way toward the boy, the umbrella-gun carefully aimed. I’m weighing my slightness against the man’s new equilibrium. In case. Then, something invisible passes between them and the tension breaks. The boy giggles and runs behind a tree, peeking out. The man pulls a forty-ounce out of a pocket and sits down on the bodega steps. The evening begins.
They worked at one of the hotels. He cleaned the mirrors and mopped the floors, and she was a chambermaid. They had a small room tucked in the corner of the third floor, where they lived rent-free. The room had a double bed, a small table fit for two, a television bolted to a chest-of-drawers, a mini-fridge, an art deco lamp and a hot plate. There were no books in the room, and the light bulbs seemed to flicker in agreement. The curtains were a shade of okra. The walls mustard blush. The linen, however, did match nicely. A window looked out over the alley and into another window, which looked out over the alley. There was a washroom, which he kept spotless, and which she disliked.
A while back, I watched a pair of mourning doves in their nest every day, watched as one then the other sat on an egg; saw their baby emerge from the egg, watched its being carried food and fed, saw them all fly away one late summer morning, never to return, I thought. But there are many mourning doves around my neighborhood and maybe those three are back.
Every morning, right to the window; every afternoon, come home, open the door, right to the window—I witnessed the entire cycle of a nesting mother and father, a chick’s beak cracking through the eggshell, the baby’s care, its parents’ nurturing it, the baby’s first flight.
THE ELEVATED VIEW AFFORDED FROM HEIGHTS OFFERED BY BALLOON TRANSPORT OF THE FUTURE ARE EXCITING. IMAGINE SEEING THE DRIFT OF EastLA LIKE YOU HEAR PIECES OF MUSIC DRIFTING IN FROM HOUSES SUNDAY MORNING, EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR CRACKING OPEN CODES OF VISUAL INTERFERENCE.
Should we say our names out loud? For the record?
Just transcribe it, we’ll sort out who was who later.
Or we won’t.
Yeah, or we won’t. Who cares?
Saturday---Liki, Swirling, Tania---
Who wants to start? Who’s going to---
What is to be done?
This is what we must do.