CHAPTER X

 

My arched palms smooth across the remaining wrinkles in the linen. In the place where I work strangers always come and go. My eyes are always looking out the window and my body just performs its tasks. Not thinking anymore, not waiting anymore. When I first started here I thought about the people waiting on the platform. It's a different type of waiting that, waiting to go somewhere else. Much faster than I could run, the black horses burn speeding around the last edge of the lake until their chugging quiets into a distant smoke of loose puffs above the treetops. I try not to think about other towns now, try to let the things out of my control be free. Besides, I could never ride another train.

I listen to the record at night. The office is quiet when the needle settles into a low hiss. Outside I can hear the wind sliding through the dark spaces between the apartment buildings. I waited too long to leave. We were in the hallway of the hotel across from the train station. A door was cracked open exposing the backside of a cart with a full bottle of real Kentucky bourbon on it. He moved towards it first when a man appeared from inside the room. He spoke to him with a voice I'd never heard before, with an affected feminine drawl, head feigned low looking up, batting his eyes with precise submissiveness. I felt like vomiting. I backed away quietly, unnoticed. I let my full body run into the heavy glass door, and with an unsteady force I laid into it with my right shoulder, nearly falling onto the street. I ran, watching the street lights disappear into pines through the hot blurred vision of uncontrollable loss.

We're both kneeling and smiling. Her hair was long and brown, never really in my memory, but in a photo from my second birthday where I have a red paper bow stuck to the top of my head. I move too slowly to run out of the room. I notice how his eyes set back deep in his head give the impression of sinking. His face is already a wet grave save for when he smiles. The first time they darted with soft elasticity, bouncing off the creases around my eyes, my mouth, changing the expression. Now it's becoming a long time ago, but the time is never steady. It's always breaking up and repeating itself. I pretend she broke up the family when she brought us here, but it wasn't really until I was a little older that the realization came in one dull jab. The shops in town obscure it, but I still see exactly where the house is. The floorboards are the same as that night we were in bed with my best friend from age six to nine. A lot of heavy points struck against the page. She and I were far along in some nothing conversation before I realized he had left the room. A bit of queasy panic as I walked naked down the dark hall. In the last room, where I knew already I would find him, hunched over the desk with his pearls resting at the edge of a well-trenched collarbone. He had cried before, but he still looked distraught. I think it's because of how I found out.

She started driving a new car, a foreign car whose insignia I'd never seen before. Down the highway built on the grave of a dozen razed jazz clubs, she turned to me and said she had something to tell me. I felt giddy and pulled at her blonde hair; it was warm from the midday sun flooding the interior. She said she had met a man and we were leaving the city. We were leaving the country because he had promised her a job and a house of our own. It didn't make sense to me, her decisions always seemed like fatal whims. Questioning only brought displaced punishments, so I kept silent. For two years I didn't talk to her or the man, who I finally met after arriving in a small lakeside town after two full weeks of traveling and crying. Frustrated by the way my silence flattened his initial bribes he became as hard and unfriendly to me as a table turned upside down.

It was earlier that day. We were having lunch in the main dining room. Other women heckled back third and fourth glasses of white wine. She didn't talk to me, didn't look up from repeatedly rolling a cherry tomato back and forth over the gradients of her half empty plate. I let my ears drift in and out of the various conversations; each one equally as boring, carried out like an unbearable performance. Finally she made her attempt to penetrate its tight translucent surface with her silver twines, but instead of taking hold of it, the small red object sprung across the table and into the lap of one of the gossiping women. As the woman stood up, the ball rolled down her dress and left a short trail of small black beads. She looked as if she'd punch my mother. "You stupid, fucking American bitch," her voice was tightening. "Do you know how expensive this dress is? I just got it last week!" Her mouth contorted more, she rolled her eyes back for effect. "Swine cunt! It's no wonder your town burnt to the ground." I looked at the woman. My mother relaxed her posture, "What the fuck are you talking about?" The woman smiled, holding the reins of silence with a disgusting pride. "What? You haven't heard? Read the paper? There were riots in Detroit last week, the whole city was fucked into the ground." In fire, in broken glass, people dragged by one arm down the streets, heads smashed with wooden batons, blood on the cement. But it hadn't been in the paper, yet.