Sunday, October 12, 2014

Storykeeper

She dug through her purse looking for her key, fumbling through layers of notes, of tampons, cheap makeup and loose change.  She located the key with her fingers by the overly large plastic fob with the picture of Han Solo and dredged it from the depths.  She looked at it.  She loved this key.  It was everything she wanted.  Freedom.  Stillness.  Unlimited MTV.  There would be other keys to join it on the ring.  Each a stepping stone from there to here.  But this one, this one wrapped all her adolescent hopes in its tarnished brass SCHLAGE.  Smiling. Humming happily to herself, she shoved it in the lock allowing herself to imagine the afternoon of freedom that stretched out before her.  Holding her books tightly to her chest, she gave the door a hip check and let the momentum carry her across the threshold.  She froze in mid-step.  All thoughts of freedom, of happiness evaporating.

He was slouched at the counter over a high ball glass of bourbon.  In her head she unleashed a string of fucks.  She dare not say them in front of him.  Girl or no, he hates that word and tends to strike first and apologize later.  When she is on her own, she will say it out loud and often.  Maybe she will even shout it from the rooftop.  What was that Whitman quote?  Oh yeah “I will sound my barbaric FUCK over the rooftops of the world.”  But for now the fucks are silent.

“Hi dad” she says leaning in to kiss his grey cheek.  From the smell she can tell this is not his first bourbon of the afternoon and knows it won’t be his last.

He lifts his head “Hi sweetheart” only to have it slowly sink back into his chest, eyes traveling back to the glass of bourbon as he swirls it.  He seems to have forgotten her. 

She drops her books on the dining room table.  “You hungry pop” she asks.  But he does not answer.  She moves efficiently in the kitchen, almost noiseless, knocking together two grilled cheese sandwiches.  She slides the plated sandwich in front of him, but it too goes unnoticed.  It usually does.  Sometimes she is envious of her friends whose mom’s greet them with warm cookies and how-was-your-days.  There haven’t been warm cookies in this house for ten years, not since her mom went back to work.  And no one cares to ask her about school.  She carries straight A’s and they no longer notice.  Any questions about school are reserved for her younger brother who is an uninspired student.  This arrangement is fine with her.  The less notice the better she thinks.  She nibbles the sandwich, quietly mulling how different her home life is from that of her friends.  How this house seems dark and full of secrets.  How it is dark and full of secrets. 

She is just about to get up, rinse her plate and start her homework when he speaks. 

“Have I ever told you about how I met your mom?”

“No daddy”
He grows silent again.  This time his eyes turned not toward the glass, but inward.  The silence stretches out.  She thinks maybe he has lost the thought. 

“We met at Devou Park”

She knows Devou Park.  She and her classmates sometimes cruise through the park hoping to meet cute CovCath boys. 

“We were there for a 50-50 picnic.”

“What’s 50-50?”

“It was a group for young unmarried Catholic people to meet and get to know each other.  I guess they don’t do that anymore.”

“I guess not” she shrugged.

“Well anyway.  We had a picnic and played softball.”

She imagines her mother younger and playing softball.  It’s not hard for her to do.  Her mom is quite the tomboy and loves baseball and basketball and is learning about football.  Her dad?  That image is harder to create.  He has been the ghost in her life for so long.  Passing through on Sundays for family dinner and unexpected moments like this one.

“There was this new girl there with her friend Marian.  I noticed her because she played ball.  And not like the other girls.  She wasn’t afraid of the ball and would go right at it.  She was so beautiful.  I couldn’t take my eyes off her.  I loved her on sight.”

“Really da?  You loved her?”

“Yup.  Bona fee-day love at first sight.” 

He clinked the cubes in the empty glass again and she expected him to refill the glass.  Instead he continued.

“Problem was, she wanted nothing to do with me.”

“What?  Was she crazy?” she responded.  She had seen old pictures of him in his army uniform.  He wasn’t as good looking as Harrison Ford, but he was still good looking.  Only remnants of that smiling handsome man remained in the broken one hunched before her over the empty glass.  He smiled at her.

“Your mom was smart.  Too smart for me.  She was the smartest woman I ever met and the most beautiful, at least until you were born.  She had grown up with money, knew which fork to use and stuff like that.  I didn’t deserve her.”

She knew her dad’s story, or thought she did.  Poor farming parents, mom died when he was seven, step mom rejected him, high school drop out. 

“That’s silly pop.  She was lucky to get you” she said sliding back into the stool opposite him. 

“She sure didn’t think so” he said.  The lapse stretched out longer and longer.  She thought he would get up then and pour another drink.  She was surprised when he didn’t and prodded him.

“So what happened?”

“I made a promise to the Blessed Virgin.  I told her I would make a Novena every month and that I would give her flowers on every one of her holy days.”

She knew from her eleven years of Catholic schooling how big that promise was.  She also knew her father was many things, some of them less than desirable.  But one thing he was was faithful to his promises.  Hadn’t he promised to take her to Father Daughter Dance Freshman year?  Hadn’t he explained to his employer how he couldn’t go to Florida because of that promise?  Hadn’t that same employer flown him home on his private jet so he could surprise her and take her?  Yes, one thing she knew to be true in her bones was that if her dad made a promise, he kept it. 

She had also known he had a soft spot for Mary, but hadn’t known why until now.  She kinda understood why too.  He believed Mary had interceded on his behalf and helped him win her mom.  Had she been more romantically inclined like her friend Deana, she might have found this so charming.  Instead, her practical nature refused the existence of deities in the sky who gave a shit about her or any one else.  If he had landed her mom, it was because he believed that he had help from Mary.  It worked simply because he thought it would. 

“After a month, I asked her out” he continued.  “She said yes and it was easy as rolling downhill after that.”

Easy?  He thought this life was easy?  Good god, this life blew chunks and she couldn’t wait to be out of it.  She reached across and patted his hand.

“That’s a great story pop, but I got homework to do” as she moved toward her stack of books.  He raised his head.

“I still do it you know.  The flowers.  The novenas.  And I always will.”

“I don’t doubt it for a minute” she answered.  Her dad moved on to the next glass of bourbon and she moved off to her European studies.  Head down.  Immersed in tracing Visigoth migrations on a map of Europe. 

She would think of that afternoon only rarely, on the day she found a cache of love letters written from her dad to her mom, on his last day when he waited for her mom to be with him, in preparation of his funeral.  She insisted there be blue colored daisies, the same as her mother carried on their wedding day.  And she insisted there be extra ones for the altar of the Virgin at the church where his funeral was held.  She insisted that Ave Maria be sung.  She would not explain to her brothers or her mother or the priest why it needed to be so.  Her steadfastness made them all back down in their talk of money or how they wanted it to be.  It would be the way he wanted.  Just this once. 

She sometimes wondered if her dad had ever shared that story with her mom.  Certainly he had.  Their marriage as she knew it had been ugly, but it had not always been so and she found comfort in that. 


Thirty years after his death, the story would tumble out of her at a table in a dimly lit kitchen of the Alzheimer’s unit where her mother now lived.  She would tell the story in the hopes that it would replace the heavy and ugly story her mother remembered of her marriage and her husband.  He loved her.  

He always had.  He always would.  Her mom deserved to know that.  On the evening that the story is told, her mother will cry.  She will cry.  And she will know that the story was not told for her alone, but so that she could carry it from that long ago day to this one.  She had merely been the keeper. 


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Belly Series Poem 10.5.14


My belly has scars
Deep and old
Pink and chatoyant
The way old scars become
on fish white skin

One longitudinal 
Made by a surgeon’s knife
Fifteen years ago
Bisects the belly sphere
Stretching from navel pole to pubic pole
Interior pink twisted fruit exposed
Wormy bits cut out
Tossed in a bin
Forgotten
by all but me

Sometimes
I look in the mirror
And I wonder
how the fruit has fallen
inside my belly
in its absence




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