The West |


by Holly Myers

One begins with the materials at hand. One begins with the materials that are left behind. One begins—here. And here. And here. A suitcase open on a bed. A new pair of sandals, suede with rubber soles. A floral print blouse; white, pleated shorts, size twelve. A pair of linen capri pants. One begins in the middle of other beginnings. One begins long after the crowd has gone and the seats gape empty and all is still. One begins just before the encore. It all overlaps. Her end began—where? Her beginning ended here, scarcely past the prelude, and all the rest dissolved into silence. Now the seats gape, silent. The programs litter the floor though all the print has faded. But what was ended is also still present (the woman who is standing in the wings insists). Still a scent or something like it: a body just around the corner or just at the end of a long distance call. Some call. Some time. Even if it never comes. And what has begun is tremulous and hollow, driven solely by the insistence of the heart (this heart) to blindly prolong its rhythm and also by the brusque momentum of time. A day passed doggedly, then a week, then two, then a month, then three months, and now so many as fourteen, though she resisted and resisted. Fourteen months and twenty-four days and at least a couple of hours, because now, here, it is 11:22 am (11:23, 11:24, 11:25) and then, when it happened—the end of her beginning, the beginning of her end—it was shortly before dawn. Which the woman remembers because the sun came up and she didn’t understand how such a thing could happen. She looked to the window with its clattering blinds and the sun was like someone else’s sun, and she knew it would be henceforth. She begins now not willingly but as a janitor begins, mechanical and slow. A suitcase open on a bed. Sandals, capri pants, Ziploc bags because she read that somewhere, and little containers of shampoo and conditioner. Dental floss, toothpaste, a blue plastic case for her toothbrush. These are the things from the drugstore, where she stood before the bins of travel-sized toiletries for an admittedly excessive period of time. (It’s just so difficult, she wanted to tell Daisy—she wanted to tell her—to imagine. She tried to tell Daisy, wherever she was: It’s just so difficult to imagine. How can I know? I don’t know. I don’t know where to even begin.) The tags have been cut from all the new clothes and piled beside a small pair of scissors, but the new things are not enough to fill the suitcase. There were end-of-summer sales; the prices are slashed three and four times over: a t-shirt, cornflower blue, with a print across the chest like a Navajo blanket ($4.99); and a sleeveless blouse, salmon colored, with little brass tacks around the collar ($12.49). Two three-packs of socks, one yellow/peach/lavender; one white to wear with tennis shoes. And a visor that Daisy would have hated. (But Daisy would have hated all of it.) And around the suitcase the familiar silence, hemmed but not diluted by the clamor of the Taylor boys two houses down, who are always making noise, who are noise incarnate, dropping their bicycles and kicking their soccer balls against the door of the garage. They argue and laugh and whoop and holler and their voices snap like rubber bands against the skin of this silence, which is impenetrable. They are life incarnate, those boys. They are life. This is something else. She closes the window. Should she have bought the visor if Daisy would have hated it? She is doing this for Daisy. She is doing this as Daisy, and Daisy would never have worn such a thing. Daisy had the face for straw hats with ribbons and wide, sagging brims, for the little knit skull caps she wore in the winter and all manner of outrageous sunglasses and for anything really. Daisy had a beautiful face. But for she herself, she’s old and thick and not stylish, never has been, and neither beautiful nor free (like Daisy was free) and her hair is thin, requiring hairspray and a hair dryer, and goes flat and rumpled beneath a hat, never springing back the way Daisy’s did when she pulled a hat off and merely shook her head, because she was young and beautiful and didn’t even think about it—so this woman saw the visor as a practical compromise. Because when she tries to imagine what Turkey will be like, all she can see for sure is the sun. Of course there are pictures: ports and temples and caves and ruins and dusty streets and minarets. She’s had pictures in her head since childhood, when she had an uncle who was stationed there and brought her a doll with a brown plastic face. And she’s read history books and guide books and she’s looked at all the websites; she’s imagined. But she can’t know. She doesn’t know. All she knows for sure is sun. And dust. She imagines there will be dust. And then there’s the advice that the tour company sent: a sun hat; comfortable walking shoes; what else? Sunscreen. Sunglasses. A light jacket. She’s printed the itinerary; it’s on the bedside table. Day one: Istanbul. The Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, Haghia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar. Day two: Ephesus. Day three: Pamukkale. Day four, day five, day six, day seven, day eight, day nine, day ten. It is difficult to imagine so much time passing. But fourteen months have passed, and it is time, she tells herself. It is time to begin to let time pass. Fourteen months here, in the city where she has always lived and where her parents lived and her grandparents; then ten days there, on the other side of the world. It is strange that the two seem not remotely comparable. But she will smile and she will put one foot in front of the other as she has for all these fourteen months because once set into motion there is a sort of natural momentum—that is what she’s learned, getting up for work, making her lunch, hanging up her coat and saying hello to the security guard. There will be a bus. There will be a bus full of people and they will all be stepping off the bus, so she will step off the bus. They will all be walking, so she will walk. There will be a guide who speaks any number of languages, and maybe he has children at home or maybe he is a bachelor but he will be calm and probably humorous and he will secure for them what needs to be secured. He will keep away the children and the beggars, and if there is confusion, he will know how to resolve it because that’s his job, he does it every day. Daisy would have laughed. Daisy who slipped through the gate round the side of the house at four years old and wandered all the way to Murrow Street, where Jack Olsen found her sitting on a tire, calmly watching the men in the body shop. Daisy who spent her junior year of high school in Ecuador. Daisy who left college to run a meditation center in India. Who worked on a farm in Germany and as a nanny, briefly, in Paris. Who went to Bolivia because she met a painter in a bar in New York city, and from there to Chile because the painter was too much. Daisy who said she would never die in Minneapolis. In the mountains of Nepal, on the sands of the Sahara, in a prison in Siberia for all she knew. But never in her despised home town of Minneapolis. The space around the suitcase is beginning to harden—the woman can see it and it frightens her. Keep moving, stop thinking. To the bathroom. Foundation, eye shadow, mascara, eyeliner, all tucked neatly into a case near the sink. She will need these things in the morning, so no point in packing them now. She lays her toothbrush beside the case. She looks up at her reflection, then down again. She touches the toothbrush. She looks so much older since Daisy died. She looks again. It is not something she ever intended to resist or complain about—age. It is something, in fact, that she’d often looked forward to: aging and softening and graying and growing wise as her father did (if not her mother), and as her grandparents did. She had a memory of her grandparents on the porch of the farmhouse in Hutchinson, in lawn chairs with lemonade or some kind of drink, probably lemonade, with children all around, and even as a girl she’d known that that was what she wanted: to grow old on the porch of a beloved old house, with a husband and grandchildren who came on Sundays. But the husband is gone, remarried in Des Moines, and there was only one child and she died—she died—childless herself, so there are no grandchildren and there won’t be. There is only this house, which is hardly beloved, which Daisy herself only lived in briefly and which is just a ranch house in a suburb anyway. And which is now so thick with silence that her few occasional visitors can scarcely bear it. So age came and she wouldn’t have minded but that it came so quickly and with such a sense of nihilism. Because now she scarcely cares what it does to her. If she died in Minneapolis, she wouldn’t mind: it would be as good as anywhere else. But Daisy asked her to go to Turkey. Promise me you’ll go to Istanbul. (There was a glow of urgency still, despite the horrific winnowing of flesh. Her forehead gleamed a little with sweat.) Daisy, don’t talk this way, you need to sleep. Promise me. What would I do in Istanbul? Live, mom. Live. The hair dryer—she forgot the hair dryer; she left it in its box on the kitchen table. She unwraps it carefully and sets it beside the suitcase. The air is hard around the suitcase, she’s sure of it now, and hardening outward like ice. She steps back—foolishly. As though it’s something she can keep to the fringes of. Her first response is panic, her second rage, because she’s been doing so well these days, relatively. Since discovering this trick of momentum—of setting herself among things that move—she hasn’t missed work in over a month, and has even had some outings on Saturdays. She went to a Twins game with Sally Wilding and her family. She went with a group from the church to help at a woman’s shelter, where she thought maybe she could volunteer to tutor children. She is a librarian; she likes children. And when she met with Pastor Kurt for coffee last Wednesday he told her she looked as though she might be emerging. His eyes were warm, if slightly impersonal. The grief will always be there, but maybe it is time now to think about moving forward. And there was a very small part of her that agreed in earnest. But beneath the rage is a swelling acquiescence that she knows to be far stronger and wider, an acquiescence not devoid of either peace or gratitude (though it is a false peace, she tells herself, a false gratitude). The air will harden around the suitcase and then expand like ice across a lake to consume the room, then the next room (Daisy’s), then the living room, then the foyer, then the kitchen, then the basement, then the yard, and then moving becomes so difficult. Moving anywhere. Moving even from the bedroom to the kitchen and back. And sometimes that can seem like a relief. But not today, it can’t happen today. She’s leaving for Istanbul tomorrow. What was it Katherine told her to do? Keep moving. Get yourself out of the house. If you can’t leave, call someone. Distract yourself (but not with the television). Go out to the garden, get your hands in the dirt. Take a walk around the block. She can’t leave the house, she needs to pack, she’s leaving for Istanbul tomorrow. And she has nowhere to go today anyway. There are no groceries to buy—she’s leaving. Sally is in Duluth for her daughter’s gymnastics tournament. There was a breakfast at the church but it’s over by now. She can see Daisy’s face and her long, curling hair, trailing her fingertips across all the new things. Picking up the visor and putting it down. Picking up the hairdryer. Who travels with a hair dryer anymore? I do. Mom, you don’t need a hair dryer. I do, Daisy. I’m not like you. I’m not young, I’m not beautiful, my hair is thin. It’s what I do in the morning. It’s what I’ve always done. Mom, the hotel will have a hair dryer. She lowers herself into the chair beside the window. It is possible. It is possible that the hotel will have a hair dryer. But there are five different hotels; will they all have them? And will they be of sufficient wattage? And if something is wrong she will have no recourse because she doesn’t speak the language and that’s hardly something she can demand of the tour guide. She should open the window, let some air in. The Taylor boys have gone inside and she’s sorry, now, to have missed them—they’ve left the street so quiet. Their father’s truck is in the drive; he must be back from Manitoba. Which is good for them. To have their father back. Since he seems to travel so often. She sinks down to the chair once more and tries to see the street as Daisy saw it: as not comforting but confining; not secure but stifling; not decent but complacent, smug, self-satisfied, bland. These were the words she used, and when she thinks about Daisy she can almost see it but when she thinks about herself she cannot. It took her so long to realize the difference, whereas of course Daisy saw it all along, from the time she was nine and wanted Converse sneakers, then wrote all over them with marker. She recalls the night when she tried to put her foot down, giving in to the advice of some women at church who really didn’t know the girl at all: she took Daisy’s keys and locked the door and told her she was grounded till Monday. Grounded—Daisy must have laughed. She climbed out the window and didn’t come back for four days. She was sixteen then, and spiteful, venomous. When she looked at her mother, it was only with scorn, until after a while she didn’t look at all. But she was calmer, at least, when she returned from Ecuador, and gradually, with time, the scorn lost its glisten and loosened into irony. The woman sees it now, the irony, as she watches her, trailing her fingertips across the new things. She watches Daisy set the visor down and there is a shame that comes, that always comes—even when Daisy was sixteen it came, though she told herself that Daisy was only a girl, rebellious and cruel and prone to say those things girls say when they’re young and have such a limited view. But she wasn’t only that; she was never a girl. She always knew what she wanted. But the woman tells herself, she corrects herself: that is Daisy, this is me; that is—was—is my daughter, I am a mother. I was a mother. I am an aging woman from a Minneapolis suburb and I don’t wear knit skull caps and outrageous sunglasses and though this life has the feeling of been drained of all its blood just now it is a fine life, it was a fine life, it has a fine shape and this neighborhood is a fine neighborhood, safe and comfortable and filled with children, and if it is the will of God that this life continue, it will continue—that is the only relevant statement or circumstance. I will tutor children. I will sit for the Taylor boys. I will go to Istanbul, but I am not Daisy. Daisy was angry, beautiful, courageous even in her dying and free and I am something else. Why do you keep saying Istanbul? she’d asked at last, exasperated, when Daisy was curled in a blanket in a lawn chair. Why Istanbul of all places? Because you told me once that you wanted to go there. When was this? You were reading a book, some romance that was set there. And you told me you’d always wanted to go to Istanbul. I don’t remember that. I was six or seven. What was she seeing, looking into the trees? What memories had she that she never mentioned? What had she seen, in Bolivia? In Chile? What had she seen in Paris? It was the first time I understood that there were other places. Besides Minneapolis. I mean really understood it. She tried to make Daisy drink her lemonade and Daisy threw it up all over the grass, then sank to her knees and cried. She can feel the air hardening around her skin and seeping in to thicken her blood. The fresh air helps but not enough. What was it Katherine told her to do? She can’t leave the house, she has to pack. What else? What else? There are three names pinned up beside the phone on the night stand, in pink, orange and green magic marker: Sally, David, and Eveyln. Sally is in Duluth for a gymnastics tournament. Sally has children, two daughters and a son; none of the three are old enough to leave home; each has his or her own room and the rooms have toys and skateboards and stuffed animals and posters. She stands above the phone and wavers. The breeze doesn’t make it from the window this far and the street is now quiet, the Taylor boys have gone. Everything is quiet. There is a lawnmower buzzing very far in the distance—that is all. She leans against the wall. She sinks to the carpet beside the nightstand and pulls her knees up in front of her. Evelyn. Evelyn is old—older even than she. Evelyn is kind but she is old and one of her children is also dead, but that child was so much older than Daisy and died of a heart attack, which is very different. And it was a man, Evelyn’s child. A boy. Male. With children of his own, which is terrible in its way but there they are, his children, running around on a lawn in St. Paul somewhere, and that is something entirely different. And Evelyn would want to talk for hours and tell her everything about her grandchildren and the neighbors and the pastor and who brought what to the breakfast this morning. And she needs to pack, she needs to pack, she’s going to Istanbul tomorrow. “Hello, Sadie. Ah, hi. Yes, it’s me. No, no, nothing’s wrong, I’m fine, I just wondered if David was there. I’m so sorry to bother you if you’re all—. Well, ok. I just needed to ask David a question. Yes, I’m packing right now, I leave tomorrow. Of course, yes. Yes. Yes, I have your address written down in my billfold. And I’ll give you a ring when I get back. Yes, I’ll hold. Nice to speak to you Sadie, say hello to the girls.” The room is still. There are clothes in the closet that need to make it into the suitcase. The jeans with the embroidered pockets. The white blouse that Daisy brought from Bolivia, which she never wears here because no one would understand. No one here understands those things and it is ok for her but that is why Daisy needed to leave. She squeezes shut her eyes, presses the palm of her hand to her mouth. That is why Daisy needed to leave. “Susan, is that you? Susan, are you there?” She inhales rapidly, tries to breathe. “Yes, David, yes. I’m here. Sorry. I just set the phone down for a minute.” She clears her throat. “Susan, are you ok? Is everything ok?” “I’m fine David, yes. Is a call from your sister so very surprising? I just, ah, I just needed to ask you—.” “Yes?” “I just needed to ask you. I’m here packing, you know, because I’m leaving tomorrow. And I bought all these new things, and I bought a visor for the sun and—oh, I just remembered I forgot to buy sunscreen. I’ll need to do that, won’t I? I’ll need sunscreen. I will do that later this afternoon. Because I still have plenty of time, until tomorrow. My plane doesn’t leave till three, so I don’t have to leave the house very early. But, ah, so I bought a visor, which is kind of an ugly visor, really, kind of tacky, actually, though it was on sale, so that was why I bought it. But I also bought a hair dryer, because mine was wearing through at the cord and it was much too big anyway, much too big to take. It was one of those big, L-shaped ones, I’ve probably had it for fifteen years, and this is one of those smaller ones, shaped more like, I don’t know, more like a hair brush or something like that. But, ah. What I wanted to ask you was. Ah—.” She could see Daisy. She could see her. Not with her eyes but with something. With some sense. She stood over her suitcase and smiled. She sat on the bed and lay her hand on the clothes. Her voice catches and she closes her eyes. “Oh, David.” “I’m here Susan. I’m here. I’m listening.” She inhales again and leans her head back against the wall. “I just wanted to know. I just wanted to know if you think I should bring the hair dryer. In my suitcase. To Turkey.” David is quiet for a moment. “No,” he says at last, tenderly. “No, I don’t think you’ll need the hair dryer. The hotel will have one.” “But what if they don’t?” “Then you can make due, can’t you? I don’t think you’ll want the extra weight since you’ll be lugging the suitcase around to all those different places.” He’s right. He’s right. It’s true. She won’t want the extra weight. She nods. “Ok.” “Ok?” “Ok.” “Are you going to be ok tonight? Do you want to come over for dinner? Sadie’s making lasagna.” “No, I’ll be ok.” “Ok. I’ll be by around noon then to pick you up. You’ll be ready by then? That should give you plenty of time at the airport.” “Ok. Noon.” “Or I could come earlier and we could get some lunch. Why don’t I do that. I’ll be there at eleven, we’ll go to Sam’s.” “Ok.” “You’re going to have a great time Susan.” “I know.” “Ok?” “Ok. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She hangs up the phone and sighs, watching the suitcase. Ok.