member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life

This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo

(Slideshow is of Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tango in a Box II

Image by Ray Caesar

(Part one is here.)
That night, I have shiny dreams. I am in a large hall. I can feel the ceiling, but it’s too far away to see and the marble of the floor glows white through the graying light. Before me, two stone, ridged pillars vanish towards the dark. A man sits on a raised platform, slightly behind them. His cheek bones and chin glint matted gold out of the shadows and a pale white hand reaches out and beckons me. The gold mask glints and my eyes burn then squeeze shut. I feel the airy, marble-cold-feeling slipping away. Now all I can feel is my eyes squeezed shut, and I’m awake. Of course he didn’t recognize me today. At first. Originally, I’m a redhead. A head full of the devil’s fire, my third foster mother would tell me, pulling through it with her perfectly groomed claws, tugging it all back into her fists. This is where I did most of my catching up in math. These sessions would go on and on, pulling encouraging her rage and her rage encouraging her pulling. It’s astonishing how focused you can become when something’s really important to you. When it’s life or death. Suddenly, I’d have a picture-perfect, zoom-in view of some heinous equation. The next day, when she’d have to call the manicurist to the house for an “emergency” fix, it wouldn’t be the missing clumps of hair or the scabs on my head that were the emergency. This was all because of Johnny’s letters in the mail. They must have been good, because she would never give them to me. To her, it didn’t matter that he went to college early. To her, that I was a little behind didn’t mean just in school. All she could see was, I didn’t have my license yet, and he was living on his own. Her pulling on my hair, well, it almost drowned out my panic that he thought I just wasn’t writing back. Back in my one room, I flip on the light, and Dora Maar is looking at me sideways and head on. Behind me, I can feel her staring at me. I walk over towards the window and reach out to touch my face in the pane. Now, I dye my hair, mousy brown, for no attention, not like wild, red, curly hair. Mousy brown, with the straightener you buy at the grocery store, the one with the black lady’s face on the cover, to help me pile it all into a bun that attracts zero attention. No one looks at you twice unless you say something special. Or have a huge chest. I smooth my hands over my double A cups.
The first time I met Johnny, I was buying a ring from one of the easiest places to steal from in the universe. A malachite ring, for warding off jealous dead spirits that might be fighting you for chances when you get halfway past a cemetery before you remember to hold your breath. It had a thick silver band, and I was trying to decide if it would fit better over my onyx, to keep me awake--shaped in a circle like the endless nights I was fighting-- or the moonstone, protecting me from the evil eye. Then I heard through the back of my head Could I sell you an extra finger? You wouldn’t think, with a first line like that, that he’d become the most important person in my life. But you’d be wrong. And then he said, right away, “You should hang it around your neck. It’s better to keep that kind of stone close to your heart, anyway. Don’t you know what it’s for?” My mouth opened and closed, but I forgot to put my answer there, and then I turned my attention to some chains, concentrating on the cheap metal links as if it were a delicate choice. When I turned around again, he hadn’t gone away, and he opened his fist to show me a perfect, cheap metal chain. It turns out he swiped it while he was talking to me, right in front of me, but by the time I knew that, I took it to be a holy act, because he did it, and I was ashamed of having paid for the ring. But that day we wandered around the mall and then walked halfway across town to get ice-cream at the same place that was there in the mall, and the whole time he didn’t say one word about the black and blue marks that had swollen my left eye shut. I was in love with all the fever of your favorite TV soap stars. It wasn’t until we got to the ice-cream counter that I realized what was going on, where I was. What I’d forgotten. That I’d walked all over town with the love of my life and never once sent even the smallest protective prayer his way. The blood rushed to my face. I was calculating at what point I had made the mistake, where I touched him wrong, where I touched something that he then touched, if he walked behind me at all. I was praying the prayers for all possible situations. He was staring at me. The goddamned ice-cream-scooper was staring at me. I fumbled an apology, something about memorizing for a class, something about forgetting. The ice-cream-scooper, he’d been there, too. He laughed. I took Johnny’s cone, passed it from my left hand to my right hand to his left hand, then I took my cone, passed it from my left hand to my right hand. I tried to exhale quietly. We were walking out, licking our cones, and I was thinking what an idiot I looked like when Johnny said, “You know any Arabic?” And then he said, “The gypsies, they have this saying, they say In Shah Allah. They say it for everything--so the milk won’t spoil before it hits their throat, ‘I’m going to buy some donuts, In Shah Allah, My pants won’t fall down in public, In Shah Allah.’ In Arabic, it means something like God willing, but you say it so everyone knows if you say What a pretty girl you don’t really mean May the nose rot off her face. Or so you don’t piss off the fates with all your own plans.” This was one of his less intrusive moments. This was light fare when compared to, say, the time we went all the way to the roof of the highest hotel in town and right before he grabbed my hand to pull me through the trap, he said “Say In Shah Allah.” And then he stuck a pacifier in my mouth so I couldn't repeat it seven times and pulled me up and he held my hands the whole time and we went all the way to the edge of the roof and looked down and walked the edge all the way around the building. But on that first day, I didn’t even know if I was going to see him again. And when I really, really had to go back home, I figured he was going to ask me for my phone number but instead he just looked at me and said, “Well, I guess I know where to find you, then.” The second time I met Johnny, it was in the same place. Because every day after school I’d gone straight back to sit on the edge of the fountain next to the jewelry stand. When he finally walked up, he said, “How long have you been sitting there, beautiful?” And I said, “A week,” and he laughed. Suddenly, I wanted to go home. This was me and Johnny: when he wasn’t around, all I’d do is wait for him, and this got me through the rest of my life, because I wasn’t really paying attention to it any more. I don’t really even remember before there was Johnny. It’s just a haze, really, but I don’t think I liked it much. Instead of taking me home, my legs chose to stop functioning, and I was stuck, I mean, my ass to the fountain. Johnny always said something flip at a moment like this, and swung me up and around like a tango dancer, heading me in the direction we’d start walking. “Well, you must be hungry then,” he said, “and only ice-cream has enough vitamins to pull you out of this.” I emitted a sealish bark, which meant I could breathe right again. The left-right-left thing is cake, when you don’t have to think about breathing, too. And I thought, either he’s got a head like a concrete block, or he just pretends not to notice how inept I am, and for half a second, I believed tango dancing must have been what I was born to do.

Perambulator, by Laurie Lipton Organ Grinder, by graphite artist Laurie Lipton


  1. The part with her foster mother is disturbing, at least. :)

    You are great at explaining situations with strong feelings. When you explain the first date, it is spectacular, and how you refer to Tango because of the way she feels it all, and also with the icecream cone from left to right and left again :).
    Also with your intelligent sentences that make me smile so often "My mouth opened and closed, but I forgot to put my answer there..":)

    I've enjoyed a lot this chapter.
    I think the chapter worths a comment to say Congratulations!!

  2. migue,
    you are really an amazing friend :)
    thanks a *lot* for reading :)