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Archive for March, 2019

Old Love

As wishes turn into kisses,

And longings turn softly to sighs,

The lust in me stirs

and remembers

How tender, how sweet were our cries.

 

Old lips still touch and linger.

Old eyes meet, still shimmer and shine,

That old earth still stops—

and waits in its turning,

While old hands and old hearts intertwine.

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Isetta

My husband Jim was big on toys.  He had nine guns, and at the time in question, three cars.  Had we been affluent, that might have played, but we were quite poor.  On that day Jim insisted that I should take the Isetta in to town since the Fairlane’s transmission was down, and he must of course have the truck.

Why did he own an Isetta?  I don’t know.  I’m not sure even he knew.  It was a fraught vehicle.  To get in, you must swing open the entire front of the enclosure, a door that pivoted on hinges that lined up out of any perpendicularity with gravity, which made the opening and closing of it a problem.  Whatever.  Once in and seated, the task was to motivate it to proceed.  How to do anything was a question since everything was unusual—located in a unique and ambiguous place.

I figured out how to get it started, how to put it into and out of gear, and finally how to propel it down the road.  The days’ business in town at long last accomplished, I found the weird little automobile, easy to locate, since it stuck out like a blue and throbbing thumb perched on wheels and waiting in the parking lot.  Daylight Savings Time had ignored the pleas of dairy-farmers but was not yet in place, so it was imperative that I locate the running lights before attempting the drive home.  There was no button, switch, lever, or any actuator at all that might initiate illumination of progress for this very unique conveyance.  I looked simply everywhere.  By the time I was done searching, it was dead dark.

I had four miles to go before I could park this problem and call it a day.  Home seemed a long way off.  There was nothing for it but to go.  The engine purred.  Inside the vehicle, dash lights offered a green illumination of whatever wanted to be reflected within.  That was me and my somewhat sickly face, as I piloted the odd little cube of painted metal out of the lot and onto the road.

There was no moon, but I could make out road-signs due to their bright paint.  It felt strange to move down the asphalt, engine purring, assuming invisibility.  No need to fear the fuzz.  They couldn’t see me.  I was a phantom.   In town, the streetlights made all the difference.  As I pulled onto the highway, I decided to wait for a long space between cars before I committed to being there at all.  The half mile on US Route 50E passed quickly, and I was soon enough off onto Pullman Road where traffic was occasional.  County Road 74 was a tiny thoroughfare to Pullman, West Virginia, that used to be called “the nine-foot pavement,” which was a good descriptor.  When it moved from being a dirt and gravel road to being paved, all the County would allow it was nine miserable feet of width.  It was better than mud, but not much.  Sometime in the last decade, Ritchie County had given in to bitching, moaning, and complaining to the extent that the byway was widened to twelve feet.  I was rolling down it.  Meeting anyone at all required that somebody give way.  I was more than ready to move off the pavement should I meet oncoming.  How could approaching traffic possibly give way to what it could not see?

Obidiah Johnson was a drinker.  Everybody knew that.  His biggest aim in life was to put off getting sober.  That would be a problem.  Nobody knew what he was trying to forget, but it must have been a doosey.  He had, long ago, lost any permission to drive a vehicle, whether highway licensed or farm-to-market.  His daily trip into town was to get liquored up.  Everybody knew that as well.  It was only after his desired state of inebriation was achieved that he would slide off his stool and slither away into the night toward home.

The evening in question was not an exception.  He slogged his way down the highway, taking a muddy shortcut toward 74 where he would enjoy the pleasure of pavement all the way to his warm bed and oblivion.  Once on the concrete, he smiled, stretched arms and vertebrae, and looked up for the moon.  There wasn’t any.  “Oh, well.”  He proceeded to weave his way down the road toward the pleasures of home.

That was when our paths nearly crossed.  I didn’t see him, except to watch a slight green tinged body of light arc away from what might have been my right fender, if I had had one, and disappear into the ditch.  I did not Slow;  I did not Stop;  I did not pass Go; And I did not Collect anything but a lump in my throat.  Strange enough, I finally made it to Home without collecting anything at all—even a Ticket.

The next day Obidiah slogged in to his daily round at Slim’s Tavern.  It was just about the same as every other day, but there was something different.  He had a quickness to his step that wasn’t a feature of his usual gait.  When he found his accustomed stool waiting just for him, he claimed it with a flourish of authority.  He had something to add to the conversation.

“Gimmie my usual, “ he intoned.  A note of authority had crept into his usual whine.  When his pint arrived, he sucked a satisfying slurp of foam from around the lip of the mug, swallowed,  and pulled in a satisfying breath asserting,  “You’ll never guess what happened to me last night.  I was attacked by a spaceship.”

Slim and the usual crew all did a double-take.  Had Obadiah flipped his lid?  They gathered round, wondering what this could be about.  He wasn’t in a hurry and spent some time thinking as he alternated between raising his pint, sipping, then settling it carefully onto the napkin,  turning it round and round while he looked far and far away.

With a bit of encouragement, Obadiah finally gave up his story:

“I was a’comin’ home last night, when what did I see, but a spaceship a’follerin’ after me.  It went behind, stayin’ close in case I got away.  I hurried, but oh it was fast.  It kept a’gittin’ closer, ‘til it fair caught up t’ me.  It was close.  Close as you to me.  I could see them-there critters inside.  Green they wuz, with eyes like you an me an a nose an a mouth to boot.  I was a’skeered o’ dyin’.  I jumped—near like unto I wuz a frog.  It tried t’ git me, but it missed.  I jumped fast—faster than it could hope to grab a’hold a’ me.  It missed me, and I landed in the swale down where Landen’s cow-path meets up with ol’ man Harper’s field o’ sweet corn.  I hid for a bit, waitin’ lest they git out and hunt me up and do who-knows-what ta who.  I don’t know what they wuz about, but I never let em git me.  I heert the sound of the ship a’goin’ away.  Quiet-like.  Jes’ a low growl.  Mad that it missed me and lookin’ for somthinorother somethin’ to grab onto and do whatever it was a’wantin’ to do to it.”

The group at Slim’s was accommodating and appreciative of Obadiah’s reporting.  They spent most of that night, and a bit of the next, asking him questions, listening to his opinions, and hanging on his suppositions as if they carried the weight of earth’s gravity newly ripped from the talons of celestial marauders.

I heard about the alien invasion next time I attended the Farm Women’s Club monthly meeting, and was amazed along with everybody else.  I had been planning to complain to the other long-suffering wives about my husband’s penchant for collecting multiple vehicles, but decided to let well-enough alone.  How could I spoil Obadiah’s first, last, and only chance to be famous?

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Original Sin

The original sin of our species is and always has been gender bifurcation.  The subtleties of Darwinian selection fashioned two disparate living entities, male and female, each specialized in support of biological imperatives that ultimately defined their genders.  All that evolution required was to perpetuate an extant species through facilitation of ribonucleic acid reproduction.  It ought to be a simple story, but it is unspeakably complex.

 

The natural urge of intelligent creatures is to relate to and love others, especially prominent for mammalia who second-thoughtedly return to their mothers for sustenance beyond once hospitable wombs.  We are hard-wired to reach to others for comfort.  That makes us a lovely, as well as lively, species.  The ways we reach for each other are different, often disparate, creating conflict within and without.  Addressing these mechanisms of thought, speech, titillation, and exchange of fluids could and should fill a book.

 

Like incipiently fertile bird species, human females yearn to build nests.  The hormones that dictate gathering twigs and grass are similar to the ones that suggest a search of www.rent.com.  While the elegant crest of the male Cardinal can be seen feathering a hopeful nest, and it is presumed the human groom will be picking up the U-Haul, while the human mother-to-be pines over lists of infant-togs and day-dreams cuddling baby-at-breast.  For her a nest is where she settles in to make her dreams become the future; For him a nest is what he creates and protects with everything that he is and can become.  Both are equally noble, testament to homo-sapiens survival to this very day.  While the joined goal is the same, there are subtle differences that can lead to strangeness of execution.  Given the inherent complexities of both genders, it’s no wonder that the whole concept of sex is fraught.

 

People are definitely weird about sex.  I need to look no further than my own puberty to illustrate.  When I was twelve, my guardian Aunt Judy arranged at considerable inconvenience to have my cousin Jeanne, eight years my senior, come and officially talk to me about something called birds and bees while my Aunt and Uncle made dishwashing noises in the kitchen.  That was awkward.

 

Jeanne made much of getting seated right next to me on the living room couch, pencil and paper at the ready.  After a flurry of nasty diagrams, she told me that babies get made when the daddy puts his “thing” inside the mommy.  Then nine months later a baby comes out.  I was embarrassed, not about the making of babies, but about everybody thinking I didn’t know.  I knew, but I didn’t want them to know I knew.  Piqued, I played their silly game, acting dumb but in actuality shaping only my own discomfiture.  When she asked if I had any questions, I demanded to know how his “thing” got through the mommy’s nightgown.  Jeanne blushed and whispered, “I guess she can pull it up.”

 

Judy must have been listening, because at that point she charged out of the kitchen to the rescue.  With a smile that was way too wide, she queried, “How’s it going, y’all?  Ready for some fresh lemonade?”

 

“Gotta do my homework” I mumbled, mostly at my feet, sidestepping and shillyshallying toward my room, shaking my head.  Why did Judy go to so much trouble to feed me information about babies, and why didn’t she just tell me herself?  I already had guessed that stuff Jeanne told me—just knew—from visits to Grandpa’s farm.  Kids at school made jokes I didn’t understand, but I didn’t know any of the girls well enough to compare assumptions.

 

So much for “the big lesson.”  Jeanne piled into Uncle C.J.’s Buick and began the tedious drive all the way from Oak Cliff’s Kessler Park, through downtown Dallas, past the old book depository, where Kennedy was shot, then on to Highland Park.  I was left to wonder, but not dare to ask, what was going on.

 

I knew about the yucky pink thing that Wesson dangled below his shorts while he made morning coffee.  It made me feel nauseous, not that it had anything whatsoever to do with me, but that he knew I saw it and wanted me to see it.  Everything Wesson did had some evil intent.  He despised me because Judy pictured me as the daughter she had always wanted, a pure affection that Wesson could never emulate, nor did he try.  His kind of lovemaking with Judy must surely have been a one-dimensional affair, selfish, crude, and hurtful.  Inexplicable to my childish understanding, Judy enjoyed Wesson’s attentions.  She would put on a slinky ruffled teddy, pottering about the house on weekends, affecting a “little woman” domesticity while Wesson mowed the lawn, trimmed hedges, and made much ado of his manly chores.  He would come in occasionally to get a fresh beer and snuggle up against Judy’s backside while she peeled veggies.  He would slip his hand inside the loose silk while Judy giggled and shrugged him away.  Judy was not the giggling type; she better expressed her statuesque elegant nature dressed for a day of professional commerce in an exquisitely tailored suit, silk blouse, leather shoulder bag and suave up-do.

 

This remembered scene of Judy costumed for the boudoir, a grotesquerie of enticement, had a watercolor quality to it, a Monet camouflaged in its own reticulated light, a softening of truth to something remotely safe to envision.  Even in memory, I cringe.  She would shoo him out of the kitchen, clucking, “Don’t do that in front of the child,” the child” being me.  Didn’t she know it was me, watching, seeing, feeling?  She surely felt the same as me inside, where the tight pull of belly strings told me all I needed to know about womanliness.  That’s what she must have been feeling.  Wesson was showing off for me, bragging wordlessly about what I was missing, what I would never enjoy no matter how much Judy loved my sweet little girl self.  His favorite diatribe when he could catch me alone began, “Mommy’s sweet little thing.  You think you’re so special.  Your crazy mother is the only one who thinks you’re worth anything.”

 

If Judy didn’t want him to do that to her, she wouldn’t have put on that pretty pin-up outfit.  She did want his hand inside the silk, touching her skin, making her smile.  Why could she want his affection, when she knew sometime soon he would again break bones and make ugly bruises on that same tender skin?  I was awash with questions never to be asked.

 

***

 

Soon I was fifteen and spent weekends helping my voice teacher’s lazy daughter complete her last year of high school by writing term papers as payment for my singing lessons.  Sexual feelings continued to be something that I didn’t talk about.  My teacher lived in Darien, Connecticut.  She was well situated to host week-end parties inviting musical young people from the area for salon performance and socializing.  I typically got paired up with Alvin, a pretty decent violinist, nice and good-looking to boot.  He was sixteen, with an old jalopy and a new driver’s license.  We rode around or went to the movies or the Soda Shoppe and then returned to the teacher’s house before my curfew.  Before escorting me inside, Alvin always kissed me goodnight.  It was something I looked forward to all evening.  I didn’t care all that much about the movie or the sodas or the pizza; I just wanted to go back to the house and feel his soft lips on mine.

 

Finally, requisite social group activity completed, we headed home.  Outside, we cuddled while the car idled, holding back the winter chill.  Then he pulled me close and gently covered my mouth with the soft warmth of his own.  Hesitant, my tongue traced the slit.  The center of my belly lurched.  The world dropped, and I hung weightless.  Then I slapped him and ran for the house.

 

This inexplicable pattern of behavior repeated itself several times, until one day Alvin finally asked me, “Why the slaps?”

 

I gulped, and began; “I saw a movie with Claudette Colbert and Jimmie Stewart.  That’s what she did when he kissed her.  Wouldn’t you think I’m fast if I liked it?”

 

“But you do like it?” he asked, taking my hand, his violin sensitive fingers tracing its outline, softly circling my palm.

 

I dropped my eyes and whispered, “Yes.”

 

Fingertip lifting my chin, he looked me straight in the eyes and pronounced, “Good.”  That bit of truth negotiated, we puckered up for a real kiss, imagined, actualized, enjoyed, and discussed in the immediacy of the present.  We laughed, cranked open the sun-roof, and headed for the front door.

 

Alvin and I had an understanding, maybe even a gentle friendship.  We enjoyed our occasional date smooches until I took off for Carnegie Tech to study physics, where my virginity remained resolutely intact.  I was singularly unimpressed by engineering freshmen, whose idea of scholarly competition was to compare whose slide-rule was the longest.  I was out of the running, having chosen a round rule which is quicker and arguably more accurate.

 

I only slapped one of those silly boys, only a single time, and that was when he pinched my bottom in General Chemistry lab while I was setting up a distillation.  My instincts were pure, completely bypassing interval reaction time.  He pinched; I slapped.  The cavernous room rang with the impact.  I didn’t miss a beat, continuing with my procedure while the other students grinned and whispered behind their hands.

 

Later, while settling into the pleasurable realities of marriage, I still retained my reticence about kissing and telling.  I insisted, for instance, to my mother-in-law, that nothing had “happened” between James and me, until a swelling belly proved otherwise.  I hadn’t sworn James to secrecy, so it still isn’t clear why, when he was presented with the fact of his impending paternity, he declared it must have been somebody else’s doing, swearing he had done nothing, absolutely nothing.

 

Why are people so conflicted about sex?  Why did it take Freud so long to realize he was onto something, and for the rest of us to catch on?  The biology and mechanics are easy; it’s the psychology that’s hard—and hopefully the member.  All this would be much simpler if we were a parthenogenic species, but not nearly so much fun.

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