Friends 2

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“I was a little girl once, just like you,” my Granmi tells me. It’s fall, and we are sitting together on the front steps, sharing the woolly blanket my ma and pa keep in the truck of their car. It smells of gasoline and scratchy crumbs are stuck between its matted fibers.

On the street, fall leaves pile up against the fences and gather thickly in the crook of the roots of trees. I want to shrug out of that too-hot blanket and fly down the steps. I want to find a good stick, and I want to poke at the leaf piles. There are worms and rolly-pollies hidden in their damp centers. I like to collect them in jars.

“When I was a little girl, we lived in New York City. I used to play with my dolls on the sidewalk in front of the house. I had a little pram where I could fit them all in, and I’d roll them back and forth.” My Grandmi tugs at the blanket and pulls me closer to her bony leg. She smells of dusty flowers and pennies.

If I were alone, I’d take of my shoes and find some mud. I like to watch it ooze between my toes. If the mud was thick, it tickles a bit between my pinky toe and the other one. I would mix the worms and the role-pollies with mud, and sticks and leaves. I would feed my potion to the trees, to help them survive through the winter.

“And wouldn’t you know it, I was shy, too. Exquisitely shy. Just like you are, my dear. Do you know that you are shy?”

The blush that reddens my cheeks feels just like a dirty scratchy blanket. There is a tree in Mr. Neilson’s yard that has a lot of eyes. I love to sit in that tree. If I were there right now the fall air would cool my cheeks and I would leave my muddy footprints on the branches. The tree would thank me for the potion, and let me stay there as long as I wanted. My Grandmi is old, and so is the tree, but only the tree is my friend.

Friends

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Irene thought it was Jacinta she saw at the market that Friday, but the other woman’s behavior was so bizarre that she couldn’t be sure. It was stir-fry night, and Irene was standing by the shiitake bin when, across the room, she saw Jacinta. Or, at least, the woman looked just like Jacinta. She had the same long hair, expertly curled at the ends; she wore the same colorful, conservatively styled clothing that Jacinta had been wearing every time Irene had seen her. She even carried the same purse. But this woman pushed her shopping cart so sluggishly that, for a moment, Irene worried that her new friend might be ill or, worse, under the influence of one of those sedatives that were becoming so popular among certain women.

It didn’t seem like a good time to say hello, so Irene was turning away to hide among the mushrooms when she noticed a man walking a few paces ahead of the-woman-who-might-be-Jacinta. He was middle aged, but wore his long hair combed into a ponytail. Wire-rimmed eyeglasses and a grey cardigan gave him the look of a librarian. He turned to say something to the woman pushing the shopping cart, it was something humorless, a command or a criticism. The-woman-who-might-be-Jacinta detached herself from the cart and moved towards a tall display of pears. Irene worried that the woman might chose one of the green pears at the bottom of the pile, and send the whole display tumbling to the floor. She worried that she’d have to help, and by helping she’d have to interact with this woman, this woman who might be her friend, but had none of the qualities, at the moment, that made her friend someone she’d want to be friends with. The-woman-who-might-be-Jacinta chose a pear from the top of the pile. She looked at it blankly, then dropped it into a plastic bag. Just as Irene was turning to push her own shopping cart away, the other woman turned. Their eyes met.

“Hello Jacinta, so good to see you! How are you?” Irene called across a display of red tomatoes. Her good manners saved her from freezing at this critical moment. Unfortunately, she couldn’t be saved from the cold fist of mortification when the-woman-who-might-be-Jacinta turned away without a smile, without even a spark of recognition in her dull eyes. The woman walked away with a pear sagging in her plastic bag. She handed the bag to the long-haired man, who held up the pear, glanced at Irene, and walked away. The strange woman followed, leaning heavily on the cart to push it ahead.

“How strange,” Irene thought. “Jacinta must have a doppelganger, right here in our little town. I hope I never have to run into her again.” And she wandered off to find the asparagus.

 

Spirit of the Day

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On my way to a somewhat business-y meeting, and I pulled an Elk card from my “Animal Spirit” deck. This means that, among other things, I have strong father energy, and that I can come off as pretentious. I don’t want to be condescending to the older woman I’m having dinner with (nor to anyone else in the world)…the card suggests that I eat and drink carefully to achieve balance. That might be a challenge with this particular dinner date, but I’ll give it a try!

The Moon and the Mockingbird

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The first time she noticed the mockingbird, Cassandra was getting ready for bed. As she brushed her teeth, Cassandra could just see a blood moon rising over the low pines that marked the edge of the yard. When the sound of the brush against her teeth no longer filled her head with noise, the house was quiet again. Downstairs, Cassandra knew, her father was drinking whiskey in the dark. Her mother had left for work hours ago, and she wouldn’t come back until the moon had set again, returning with the roar of the truck’s engine and the noisy energy of her exertion. Without Cassandra’s mother, the house sagged with quiet inertia, and Cassandra’s father, an extension of the house, did too.

The mockingbird’s call was so desperate that at first Cassandra couldn’t identify a pattern in the round, rushing notes. It was as though the bird breathed notes: trills on the inhale, trills on the exhale, until the air was full and there was no room for even the sound of the wind brushing the curtains across the window frame. The moon rose higher above the pines, growing smaller and brighter as it cleared some low clouds. The hallway to Cassandra’s room glowed. After she had tucked herself in, Cassandra lay awake for a long time, overwhelmed by the light and the song that filled her quiet night house.

The next morning, the moon and the mockingbird were gone. The day was sunny and full. Cassandra’s father mowed the lawn. Her mother sang as she hung the laundry. When the sun went down that evening, it stayed dark and quiet until Cassandra was asleep in bed. She woke, though, to the mockingbird. It sang outside her window, the only sound in the world, the sound of the moon rising, red, over the sea.

(Self)Soothing Airport Drawings

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I really like the different patterns of lines on the asphalt.

When I was a little kid, back before airport security intensified, my babysitter used to bring me to Logan airport in Boston, just to hang out. There they had a children’s play area, complete with a climbable airplane, and a Rube Goldberg machine. I loved watching the pool balls roll around this musical sculpture. I never knew which path they would take, and which of the percussive instruments they would hit. The abstract arrangement of bells, chimes, and drums was soothing to my young ears.

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling these past few months, mostly by air, and that calm feeling is gone. Despite the really impressive improvements of airports like Atlanta’s and San Francisco’s, that 2-hour wait in the terminal is never an enjoyable one for me. My childhood excitement of air travel is replaced with the frustration of incomprehensibly long security lines at New York’s JFK.

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Classic terminal view. (Logan airport, Boston)

As much as I like my iPad, I don’t think they make good waiters, nor do they make lovely table decorations. Unfortunately, most airport restaurants now feature tablets on every table. So instead of eating something that will inevitably make my stomach inflate against the airplane safety belt, I’ve found a new airport pastime: I didn’t realize I’d come up with this solution until I tried organizing my digital drawings. It turns out I have an interest in drawing airplanes and airports!

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An abstraction of all of the interesting lines of the airport ground. (JFK, New York)

Oysters

Happy Fourth of July! I’ve just eaten a bunch of oysters to celebrate the existence of this fantastic, adolescent country.

We eat oysters often: shucked by a waiter for $1 between 4 and 7 pm at a restaurant down the street; or unshucked, with a cold glass of white wine, all of us glowing in the low sun as it spreads, orange, through the south western pines. (I like to see the sun give way to the sky. It bows out in oranges and pinks, and all the while the blue, deep purple and finally black fill in its absence with other stars.)

When the oysters aren’t shucked, I hold the full shell in my left hand, which I protect with a pot holder. With my right, I push the point of a dull knife in through the earthy base, and jiggle my wrist to ease the blade through the flaky cups. I feel the oyster give, the shell releases, and I pry it open. Inside sits a little oyster, and I eat it with lemon and maybe a little vinegar and onion. It is cold, sweet and slippery, salty with ocean and gritty with a little shell sludge. I’ve heard oysters are only to be eaten in months that are spelled with the letter “r,” but I find them just as tasty in those that begin with “ju.”

Distant fireworks on Inkwell Beach

Rocks

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Rocks at Gay Head Beach (aka Aquinnah)

On the windowsill, we collect rocks. Here is a sandy orange one, fist-sized. And see how this grey slate is striped with milky quartz. In the sun you can see the garnets that sprinkle this rock’s surface. Aren’t they pretty?

My parents made friends with a housepainter named Jim. One summer he painted our rooms the colors of sherbert, orangcicle and melon green, and afterwards my parents gave him a beer on the porch. Jim saw our rocks and invited us to Aquinnah, far past the families camped with their many chairs and the nudes camofouging into the orange clay. He told us that there was a point on the beach where the cliffs revealed their secrets, the rocks spilling out over the sand, spread by fresh water springs that trickled towards the ocean. Jim showed us how to spot the clam fossils, dark and heavy with petrification. My father found a shark tooth four inches long. The clams and the teeth were prized. We kept them on the bookshelf, next to the shiny captain’s clock.

Is it possible that my mother is right? She thinks that Jim sprinkled those fossils on the beach for us to find. She thinks he tricked us. They aren’t friends anymore. The fossils are still next to the captains clock, collecting dust. We still collect rocks, and line them up on the windowsills to bake in the sun.

 

The swim

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The water was cold. It sluiced across my back in cold chords of liquid muscle. It was the ocean, and never anything else. Even when I kicked and the water flew high into the air, the spray fell, glinting, back to be the ocean again.

I swam through the ocean and I was weightless, cool, fluid. The ocean entered through my nose, my ears, my eyes. The membrane of my skin encouraged a greater osmosis. I blew. My bubbles rose to the surface and popped.

When I was finished, I swam as close to the shore as I could, but when my belly scraped the rocky bottom I had to stand on wobbly legs. To balance my small flat feet was unreasonably difficult, but I managed to propel myself up the sloping beach to my towel, where I collapsed, wet and limp in the dry sun. That was when I noticed my eyes. They rolled in their sockets with the rhythm of the waves. They would not focus on the fixed objects of land. A stream of salt water poured out of my nose. Sea weed tangled in my hair. Surprisingly I did not vomit out a live fish. My sea change, this time, was a mild one.

The foragers

“What’s that?”

Lila pointed at the sandy ground, where, among dried oak leaves and thorny vines, a pocketed grey sponge sat unappetizingly.

Her mother came over and peered at the growth. She leaned over further, bending her knees to get a closer look. The breeze off of Huron Lake blew a cloud of dancing gnats around Lila’s head. She swatted at them and waited for her mother’s assessment. From the smile that was stretching across her face, it looked to be a favorable one.

“What’s this? What’s this? You found a morel, sweetie! In the most unlikely place!” Lila’s mother took a knife from her pocket and cut the mushroom’s stem. It was the size of Lila’s hand, and dense despite it’s hollow core. The cratered surface was firm, with grass seeds poking out a few of the tiny holes.

“Let’s see if there are more!” Lila’s mother started pacing the moss of the rest area, and soon had filled her pockets with several more of the prized fungi. They’d have to find a kitchen to cook in tonight. It was too late in the day to sell a handful of gourmet mushrooms.

Desert selfie

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Selfie: We stayed in a camper in the middle of Death Valley, with access to a private mineral spring. The precious water left our skins slippery with magnesium, as though we had lathered up with soap. Outside, the salted sand stretched towards dry mountains in the distance.

Oil painting on canvas, June 2018