Soon as she heard Biddy’s crackly voice, Vivian felt trapped.
Biddy folded her hands on the walker, a shocked expression on her face. “Bessie’s nephew’s in the hospital. Top of his head come clean off. Her daughter called last night.” Biddy puckered up her lips like she was eating a lemon straight up, no sugar, no salt, just peeled off the tree. “Like he got scalped.”
Biddy wagged her head. “You going to supper?”
Thrown together for decades, a friendship of convenience, Vivian considered pleading illness. What a gossip. Vivian fervently wished her husband hadn’t gone first. “I guess so.”
In grade school, we played out of boredom, shooting spitballs at the ceiling from straws. A sodden mess, the glop hit tables, never lights. I was the tallest.
I’m a long sip now, a Margarita. Tall as most college guys. My superpower is passing. As in basketball scholarship. Now that I’ve learned chess, nerds get nervous. I trot out opening gambits, spiking pieces across the board at lightening speed. Checkmate.
They call me “Show-off.” I say, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did backwards, wearing high heels. She didn’t make as much, though.”
There’s a buzz in Bezerkeley. Just a fly. Not a contact high. Swatting the pest, I cross campus. The fly follows me.
I took a shower. I say it out loud. That gets a few looks.
Embarrassed, I wave it away with my copy of The Daily. Sprinting through Sather Gate, breathing hard, I slow. Gliding ahead of me across a wide swath of grass, an owl skims the air just inches above my head. The fly tumbles in the jet stream of the bird’s wings.
Psst, a pesky whisper. It’s back. A streak of grey, a flycatcher. No more fly.
He could not sleep. Padding to the kitchen in pajamas, he heated milk. Needing a cozy spot to sip it sent him from room to room, landing him in an overstuffed chair. Children’s illustrated books jumbled together with thick tomes, Pooh next to Jung, a shelf up from Wittgenstein, a shelf down from a huddle of keepsakes. He touched their textures, wound up a song. A tiny bowl, a Nutcracker ballerina, a music box, a rabbit tail.
A last ounce of milk. He rubbed his eyes and paged through his wife’s last drawings. Their life together. Now he might sleep.
Imagine an elevator on Thanksgiving. You are hurtling into a conflagration of turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes, and post-modern politics. Your mother, the feminist, stands left. Taking the middle, you and your school chum play at Cockney rhyming slang. Your Uncle Uncle embraces the Madmen Era. He never suspects that your friend, whose ass he pinches, is an expert kick boxer. He expects that gender rules. But it doesn’t. In the hall, she will enlighten him and he will nurse his bruised balls with one highball after another, reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the library.
If you laid a transparency of then across now, there’d be no difference. The oak tree was infinitesimally taller. Knee high corn still grew in the muddy fields. The white house, with green slatted shutters, slept on a rise beside an identical lilac. Yellow pig stench choked the air. Even the girl smoking a ciggie with him was the same. College had not really happened. The demonstrations, and the wild blue moons, and the nights up until dawn accumulating debt. None of that was true. The shutters, the tree, the girl, the ciggie. Those were the facts. The other was fiction.
They breathe incense and say a prayer for conscience. And strength. And a Godspeed journey. En route to safety, supplicants meet an impasse. Unyielding metal vehicles push forward to the blast of mindless pontificating, spewing angry exhaust fumes to fill potholes. Polluting, endangering, inspiring fear. Forks in the road destroy the path to sanctity. Take a wrong turn, you’ll miss heaven’s gate.
At the border, wooden buildings loom. Maybe there’s a cross, maybe inside is sanctuary. Immunity for fugitives who flee to sacred ground. A medieval state of mind, a modern state of grace. Decried in the rush to judgement.