He believes in eugenics -- his line was bred for sad brown eyes turned down
on the outer corners. He feels his Self slipping away, somehow.
The Self he was creating -- he did it, he was tied to a woman, a woman who
didn't really want him, a woman who flailed at being tied to men like an unbroken
yearling colt flails at the lead chain. He fell in love with her watching
her walk in the grass at the side of the road -- bare arms, long brown dress,
square brown handbag, pale white skin, waist-length brown hair. He'd
had ten cups of coffee pulling an all-nighter to teach his first Medieval
history class. His role: the nervous young professor. He
stopped to give her a ride -- his first day on the job, he didn't want to
fail some test, by not stopping, and then she was just like some wild horse,
he knew he had to marry her to keep the other predators at bay, they'd have
chewed through her throat in a heartbeat. He'd never seen eyes like
hers. Unattainable. One morning, he woke up, he was married.
Sometimes he thought the way his wife acted in public was like doing a strip-tease
inside the Dome of the Rock -- asking for it; bad shit going down out there,
he said in his mind over and over whenever she started up, giving people looks
of... what was it, exactly? Then one day, driving to work, dawn breaking, coffee
clutched in hand, he watched a flock of birds pass by, bits of black looking
like a school of fish coursing through the sky. Landing on a new-mown
field, the birds hopped among the grain stubble, picking up leavings.
His wife with her unsatisfiable longings was like that, a ballet too graceful
to be endured. How was he going to stay? How was he going to leave?
He goes to the office and tries not to think about it, but it's there every
second, floating in the air in front of everything he tries to focus on, like
text on an invisible TelePrompTer. It wouldn't matter -- his wife could
run off with the car, all the money, his heart -- still he'd never stop asking
her to come back.
His newly-adopted hometown was full of squares and smiles: people walking
by, talking and laughing to the air. For years, his wife had this best
friend who always thought she, the friend, was dying. Sometimes his wife
got irritated with her friend's fear and wished she'd get it over with already.
She'd been dying for over 10 years now. Except one time, after his wife
hung up on her friend disgusted by her seeming hypochondria, the friend actually
ended up in the hospital with a heart attack. His wife told him God was
teaching her not to make wishes. That night, she sat nude in front of
the closet-door mirror bawling like she'd just gotten a bad haircut. Which
she had, at her own hand. Hacked her hair off with kitchen shears like
an insane nun taking her final vows.
Long ago, his wife says, she lived in a warmer climate. Her first love
was a coconut palm, phallic and bristly. Round brown fruits. She
scaled the tree again and again, could never make it all the way to the top.
She got a crush on every boy that talked to her that year. She quit reading
the Bible when she got to Job -- after her father lost his two sons in separate
car accidents, he just laid down on the couch and died, for which she never
forgave him. Maybe it was the fact her father willed himself to die, left
her on her own too young -- maybe that, and the two dead brothers, made her
feel like any man was better than none.
A spade is a spade. Death and time are as big as the universe. Even
your wife's dying friend can be deceptively spry, hale and affectionate;
she can give bear hugs. The dying friend can move to Lulu, Florida, after
she gets out of the hospital for what she doesn't know will be the last time.
The sky over her can be blood blue with thin white clouds like cobwebs.
A dying woman's dentures can deteriorate -- first a missing eyetooth, then going
brown in front in weird streaks. Evidence of her inner corruption.
A dying woman can be financially abusive. His wife always handed over
his money to people with sob stories like tissue paper, whether they were dying
or not, she'd have bankrupted him if he allowed it. Surprise! His
wife's so-called dying friend can actually die. His wife cried and cried,
even though she told him only yesterday she was afraid her friend only wanted
Yet, that impulsive woman he married, she got pregnant the first night, the
condom slipped off and was found wadded up next to her cervix -- she baked and
baked, even after she lost that baby. Even the day of the miscarriage,
her flour was soft and cool and white on the table, her nimble hands unevenly
pigmented, strong and capable, dusted with flour, holding a green-handled rolling
pin. She was like a horse trainer, she'd never hit you with her hands,
only with something held in them, usually a hairbrush, the bristly side.
She wanted you to obey but not to fear.
Die, black smile -- his wife was like any ordinary woman you fall in love with
on the side of the road, touching her own lips, feeling her own breath.
She was not comfortable with him. She was not comfortable belonging to
any man. She lost another man's baby the year before she married.
Now she is fighting depression off with a big stick. In his favorite picture
of her, his wife's flesh looks so soft as to be eminently pierceable by the
polar bear tusks in the head she's leaning on. Sometimes she'd cry hard
and couldn't get out of bed, other times she was just plain hard and he couldn't
get through to her heart -- like she was compensating for the too-naked times,
by not allowing touch.
They vacationed incessantly -- Omega at the desert -- she wore a backless sundress,
and all her spinal knobs were visible to the casual observer. She was
verging on plump when he met her, then she became lean, tireless and angular.
He doesn't care either way -- he knows she's no good for him but he can't give
her up. Maybe it's that he's never had sex that good with anybody but
her. An hour in bed makes up for the days of misery trying to live with
the rest of her. He understands now how addicts can keep shooting up,
even when they know it's killing them.
At a frown from him, at the slightest disappointment seen or unseen, she'd bolt;
he wouldn't see her for days. Then he felt as hollow as an abandoned house,
weathered gray clapboard siding, rusty tin roof, part of the roof gone so you
see the rafters underneath. He took long walks early in the morning trying
not to think about her, saw a rising flock of birds, confetti against gray-blue.
He was walking through flatness, brown plains, splashes of green, a dull sky,
murky at the horizon. A grain elevator through the mist, far-off, looks
small like a toy. Is he a toy, for her? He buys a cup of coffee
at Love's Truck Stop on Fountain Rd.
Her name, he sees it written everywhere -- on a metal tower with guy wires,
the upper half of the tower obscured by clouds. He sees her name on maps,
even at City Hall on a quick stop in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, for coffee and
smokes. Diana, the huntress -- but she can't bring herself to butcher
the kills. She leaves them to rot. Or maybe she stores the carcasses
in some psychic smokehouse, preserving them within herself for some imaginary
future famine. As if she'll ever be alone, as if she'll ever lose her
gift for making others feel sorry for her, sorry enough that they pick her up
hitchhiking and end up married.
Heat and a white smile -- he visited another sick friend, imagined making love
to Diana in a hospital bed. What would it be like, to care for her until
death? Would it make him forgive her at last? Would she be able
to forgive herself? Diamond logic cuts through psychological scar tissue,
removing old growths, old infections, but then comes pain, bleeding, the collapse
of drained and emptied dreams. When he aches for her, but in the same
moment rejoices in her absence, assault-eating seems like his only option.
He sits in front of the games on TV, bags of snacks next to him. The cat
sleeps on his feet. It doesn't matter who's playing, he roots for the
Before she came back after the first separation, he decided that the flat glare
of the sun loved him more than any woman he'd ever known -- he wasn't even surprised
when he read in the newspaper how two thugs beat a gay college student, tied
him to a fence and left him for dead. She is ill, mentally, spiritually;
he knows this but something equally twisted in him needs to be around that illness,
in order to feel himself healthy. Who, then, is the worse off?
She came back over and over, and every time she was hard at her music again,
trying to get perfect that rhythm only she could hear; practicing, pure mindless
female energy -- dressing up in fur and spangles, frothy material, fancy.
When she got like that, you could tell she wanted to persuade some mysterious
Somebody to do Something for her. She wanted to tempt, to bewitch.
He let her practice her music on him, he took it into himself, her beauty, her
nature, her vengeance.
He had pity -- she was piteous -- her legs moving like a deer's, then wrapped
around his waist -- thin, delicate, poised for fleeing. Once she told
him she loved to feel womanly, but the only way she could achieve that was to
see herself as physically, mentally and spiritually complementary to whatever
man she was with. She could then mold herself to accommodate his subtle
shape the way the space between her legs accommodated him, and the womanly experience
came to her through that forming, that clinging. Yin/yang, two halves
of a sphere, with herself having structure only when against the man's half.
And sooner or later, she always stopped assuming that complementary shape, as
soon as she started seeing things in a man's shape she didn't want to cling
to -- what man doesn't have weaknesses -- and that left her feeling like a neutered
being, not male, not female. Barely alive.
A spade is to be pitied for having to bury a woman like her, he thought upon
waking early one morning to stare at her sleeping face, drained of pain and
fear, sweet as a baby's -- but the light was all wrong for this time of morning,
damn that daylight savings time. Change, he hated any kind of change.
She should stay in one place, there can be no love without commitment and full
knowledge. Yet even regarding her deep within the throes of her struggle,
primed with the proper amount of pity, he felt their beauty together, as a couple,
was almost equal to infinity -- but then again, mating cockroaches could fly
toward the light too.
One day when she said, "Let me out of the fucking car, now," he stopped,
let her go -- thought finis." She ran toward an idle hay baler &
mountains of mown hay in a field; after that, she ran through a field of milo.
Then came a sheet of rain. While he waited for her to return, he picked
handfuls of yellow flowers beside the brown stubble. She was his ultimate
fantasy -- her hooded eyes, high cheekbones, firm jaw, full lips. Gleaming
brown hair. He said to her the next morning, grinning like a chimp, I
live for simple things now: coffee and a cigarette in the morning, beer
and a cigarette at night. That's my life."
Scent-paths are the most primal in the brain -- one day he read about how, in
the next state, a cyanide suicide's body gave off fumes and made nine others
ill. His wife's baby breath slowly turned into dragon breath. A
crazy tarot card reader told him seven was the optimal number for a point of
view, whatever that meant -- then during the month of July, his own mother walked
the Great Wall of China, worrying about his pending divorce.
Money could always make her come back -- who was it that wrote, Wealth is power?"
King Cotton. After all, his family had bales of cotton the size of railroad
cars, covered with blue or yellow plastic. Chicken houses the size of
football fields. Tractor-trailer cars stacked with white chickens, still
alive. Numerous Arkansas mountain shanties. On one particular tract
of farmland, there was pampas grass and a rotting tin-roofed general store.
Not to mention abandoned buildings, too numerous to count.
He felt his smiles turning into complex equations, numbers, letters, factors
squared. Also that July, his wife fell madly in love with Puerto Rican
twins. She sat in the college Spanish lab for hours, trying to acquire
the accent of a native speaker. Later, she asked him to take her in for
an abortion. Him, a male, like a wide column of stationary air before
her warm front, her hurricane eye -- she left him wishing he were a virile but
tender auto mechanic instead of a college history teacher.
Dig up the heart that was properly buried and leave it defenseless again --
in a dream the next night, baby fists flailed against him, their full force
like the blow of colliding with large bumblebees. Heavy but miniature.
His wife, woozy with painkillers, crawled into bed beside him, woke him up,
told him how in college a virgin boyfriend of hers, frustrated because she wouldn't
sleep with him, punched a brick wall, injuring his fist. Crooked paths
lead to God -- his wife then told him how it was with the elder Puerto Rican
twin, Emilio, that she first stayed awake all night long, so hungry, but then
he pissed her off with his blond boyfriend: using her as a cover so nobody
would know he was bisexual.
The sun's light always reminded him of diamonds -- his favorite teacher once
told him, Don't waste your gifts." He was too much in love with
the teacher to ask what gifts she meant. Now he thought he knew.
The sun ate his heart anyway, it didn't care about his promises -- he was bereft
beyond bereft when that woman left him for the last time. All his friends
and acquaintances told him how he'd be better off. He was, and yet he
wasn't. Everything he dreamt then, since she was gone, was in black and
white -- he wanted to hear the white noises of the wind, he wanted to fly down
the tunnels of green, he wanted the warm salt water to gently burn his eyes
clean, he wanted all his enemies dead, he wanted the memories removed.
His wife loved white sheets -- they made love that last time in a bed so white
it looked like barely repressed violence. In the center of all that
pain, something brought them both rising smiles -- together, they were convulsed
by spasms of laughter, uncontrollable as an orgasm. It seemed like laughing
at a funeral -- insane but maybe the sanest response of all. She gave
him one lasting gift, his black smile at infinity... infectious. Even
as he walked around, zombie-like, memories of the failed marriage ringing
in his skull like the aftershock of a car crash, total strangers started propositioning
him out of the blue. Male and female.
The heart, it seems, can expand, then collapse, both to an infinite factor.
He noticed, one day at lunch downtown, lots of little people he'd never seen
before. Or maybe he saw before, but he didn't notice. Had she left
him that ability as well? Fat, strangely shaped people, people who looked
mentally disabled, odd angles of eyebrow, odd expressions of puzzlement.
Then, he noticed a very pretty woman in a garden-print shift & orange straw
hat, no makeup but blood-red lipstick. She could be his wife's twin.
She ordered grilled turkey & Havarti with cucumbers. Unlike his departed
wife, she was apparently an effortless mother, her child was immaculate, dressed
in hand-sewn clothes. If she ever left her husband, the world outside
might swallow her whole -- but he'd do his best to convince her she had to --
for both of them -- at least try.