I believe that each of us is given one sentence at birth, and we spend the rest of our life trying to read that sentence and make sense of it.
Li Young Lee
Appalling ruin of another afternoon. My father and I walking back with our furies in the failing light. What mythic, doomed path is this, my increasingly troubled mind has placed us on this time?
Why are we on foot, I wonder. What’s gone wrong again? The car’s broken down no doubt—left for the mechanic to collect and resuscitate. We have done this to our sorrow: my father swearing, God damn mother fucker and the mechanic shaking his head, piece of junk. All the things that don’t work. Kennedy already somewhere taunting him—piece of crap, piece of shit—left over on Market Street. Seeing your girlfriend again, Loverboy? And using Bernadette as your cover? Yes, I have accompanied him as usual. How dare you? How dare you, you piece of shit. Ill tell Mom! And Kennedy is slammed against the wall again: the fuck you will. And he never does. He never tells.
My father and I walking down the crooked street finger our fury beads. Another year, someone new. Saturdays, my day with him, his one day free—no one else to watch me, I guess. Mother at the phone company, Kennedy standing on the gray factory floor.
Each Saturday both before and after the death of my brother Kennedy, both before and after the ring was buried, when I was a child before speech and then at the time of language and then after that, when I became what would be called an elective mute for some years, speechless, I would spend Saturdays with my father.
My father and I lumber larger than life, through the streets: Loverboy and his weird sidekick. Objectively, he is handsome, no one can take that from him: black hair, green eyes. And such bravado—his drinking mouth, his two bits of charm, his jaunty full of shit—crank, crack-pot schemes in those early years when there were still schemes, in the years before Kennedy’s death. Get rich quick horse and dog race tricks, idiotic lotteries and bodegas and fast exchanges, petty crimes and pay-offs and extortions. He is confident, having been buoyed up once more, shored up by the absurd parade of women who lavish everything they have on him. He is handsome, in a decadent, ruined way, grant him that. It is his one inheritance. His one free ticket in a world that costed, that exacted a great price from him. For Christ’s sake even I grant him that—that free fall, that free ride. Soon even it will pass, masked by alcohol, despair.
How is it possible that such a handsome man can ever have produced such a homely daughter? And I am; I am homely—tall, so tall, I must certainly appear older than my age, and so skinny. Kennedy calls me String Bean and Bean Pole and Olive Oil and Beanstalk and Little Beanie and Birdie— with that kind of metallic red hair that curls in all the wrong directions. A tuft of tortured hair and glasses and birdbones.
We walk toward home in the excruciating afternoon. From afar he is patriarch, protector, keeper of the keys. Great, and as of yet unrecognized, unheralded, anti-hero. Charismatic and walking in shadow. And I am composed along similar lines in tattered grecian garb, a mourning angel wringing silent fists, captive, with no language for any of it. Grief, as hidden now as it was then, despite these paltry attempts at penning it for Elizabeth. Elizabeth who will explain all this after my death. As if there were explanations. Alas, to be a mystery even to myself. I have commited heinous crimes. I have killed two men, two young men who did not hear the war call, or the drone of the factory floor. Two men on the threshold, as they say, of their whole lives. Students of mine. Dead. Pity them. And so I shall pay with my own life. Foolish Birdbones. Birdy. Tuft of tortured hair.
How silent the chamber of afternoon. We are on our way back to the only thing that is ours, the small, dark, rent-controlled house. We don’t own anything. Not even our rage yet, or our fear. He’s still swashbuckling, full of himself. We are on our way home to Mother, at home, returned from the phone company and her litany of numbers, already preparing the gray meal of meat and potatoes. Mother, ever helpful, all day reciting numbers into the black microphone. Where is she when I need her? Exhausted and boiling the grim dinner for Father and making every excuse. Mother—his cycloped, myopic accomplice. Husbands, she’ll tatter. And boys will be boys will be boys. Her hundred messages of clemency and forgiveness. They are not like us. Her grotesque fear of abandonment; and the price she payed not to be left. Men must be given license, freedom. She stands at the dark pot with her usual evasions and clichés and excuses. And later in the next room at night, I can hear her, her endless, useless bargaining with Jesus, whom she loved—until he deserted her too.
Kennedy comes in with his burden of factory floor and drone, trying to shift its terrible weight away. I am inadequate; cannot lift this thing, a failure. To love someone so much and be able to do so little—nothing. He enters the room fighting, and smiles at me with some small hope—and I am ecstatic—until he too settles into the Saturday supper’s gloom. Nothing can dispel the exhaustion of this small huddle. Father asking Mother to get him another beer, and another, and Kennedy sneering, get it yourself. As I silently replay the tawdry events of day.
Absurd decorum of the desperate, heterosexual afternoon. Stupid rituals of water biscuits and tea. Of sherry and flimsy nightgowns and fuzzy slippers; whiskey doled out in thimblefuls. Groaning of the bed, the small predictable torments, my father’s howl and what I have come to realize were the feigned orgasmic cries of his women. Here in the Correction Facility, the prisoner village, I hear the real thing, all night, every night. They coat, they soften they tear down the night. Only I am outside of it all—silent.
I locate now those long afternoons with my father as my first acquaintance with terror. I was mortally afraid of those women and their power over him. Fearful of their casual, coy, closely-guarded secrets, their lady fingers, their lady slippers, their perfumed bodies. I recall those afternoons as all chaos, and darkness, and squalor. Still, I am riveted to the spot—to the slurred voices, to the songs, to the demented laughs. The intimate conversations—they may as well be speaking in another language—the wavering and murmuring dialogue I’d imitate later mimicking their despised honey voices and idiocies, so as to punish my father, and in some way keep him indebted to me, along with all the others he owed things to. He never knew in those years when I might speak, or what I might say. I, his small, perverse jailer. Prisoner of this mute genius child, with her silly, irredeemable chip. Through these amorous routines, she works out complex algebraic equations, or reads Shakespeare and Descartes, or composes Haiku on her arm, trying to force the world into 17 syllables. Weird genius girl. Deserted. Marooned.
Entombed in another Saturday afternoon. I am more trapped than you know in this pathetic deception. So many years his melancholy front, his steady, sober accompanist. Silent, dwarfed by the simple acceptance of my position: daughter. Why, in all those years, do I never rebel? Am I so sorry for him? Maybe so. It is clear he is damned. We both know it: something in him is so broken. Nothing will ever, despite his gaudy charm, go right for him. He is perpetually running bare-assed, falling on his fallen pants—being chased down a long alley, mortified. And I am retrieving his wallet, his keys. What is wrong with me that I am sorry for him still? He with his small, pitiable disgraces. He is not stupid, never stupid, but he is, even back then, defeated. Son of a coward, as he always said. Shaming and ashamed. He is the child still descending the dark cellar stairs. His father’s body hanging in the corner. Dangling, still warm. My father is only nine-years-old. And I am sorry. Truly. For this.
Stumbling, running with his pants down—in the humiliating and punishing afternoon that never ends. We’re at Solita’s again, the sweet Portuguese woman in sexy housewife garb: apron and mules, a large headband, a feather duster, even. Now and then she’ll pick up a wooden spoon to stir the choriso and kale for her husband’s dinner, making her slow stew. My father is impatient, ready to devour, but she is in no hurry. It’s their ritual, of course. Each time, with real skill she takes him to that explosive moment—while doing a chore of some sort, he urging her into a back room, she waiting and whispering and teasing and swatting him away, swearing. And he says, as he always does, watch your mouth there’s a child here and she says, what the fuck kind of man can you be, as if she has forgotten, bringing a child with you!And she begins her elaborate sex talk with him, sometimes in Portuguese, sometime in English. Watch your mouth, she’s not deaf you know, she’s just mute. And she says fuck me right here if you are in such a hurry, on the floor and he delirious, grabs my math book, and says Birdie, could you go into the other room for awhile, in the afternoon that will not go away or end. And now it is he who swears, whore, mulatta bitch; I can hear them through the flimsy door and she just laughs and laughs. I imagine that she derives not only pleasure but power from his every dismissive remark. She has the laugh, the attitude of someone who cannot be hurt or simplified or disgraced anymore. I try to draw pictures of her laughing, in the margins of my notebook. Solita, gulping and sighing and screaming and laughing at him. And she continues to laugh when her brother comes in and finds them wedged in some corner. And he chases him bare-assed down the ludicrous alley home. I follow him, forced into a sympathy I do not want to give. She chasing after me, singing my name, saying Bernadette catch, and she throws me the keys.
Let’s see. It’s Pretty Mother this Saturday. She’s lovely really, isn’t she? I get glimpses of who my mother might have been, what she might have had for herself after all, under different circumstances. This pretty mother is my mother, raven haired, relaxed—without the phone company or the burden of husband or children yet. She’s enrolled in some local Catholic college. She thinks she’d like to teach. Catholics are the best in bed, she whispers, and I imagine her green eyes are shining, her pale, pale skin, her lilting barely audible voice. Her bare breasts slung with medals of the Virgin. And I too am prettier, sweeter than usual … I watch myself wandering the hallway of our happy home in this sanitized rendition—Father, beaming, and Mother, pretty, free of worry. We have done this to our sorrow. Someone is singing. Someone is painting the walls. Someone has called offering jobs. We are imagining new lives, rehearsing them, practicing optimism. Saccharine, unforgivable child, that I am. I watch Pretty Mother prepare for my father. He has dropped me off early for some reason and I am left alone with her. Sitting in front of the mirror with her she asks, Do you like to watch your mother put on her face? I nod yes, though I am lying; it frightens me, like almost everything does. She smiles. She smells so nice. She combs my hair gently, the tortured, electrocuted tufts. Woe is me. Woe is my mother. There is something here almost unbearable to see.
Pretty Mother makes my real mother seem all the more drab when we arrive home, flushed for the evening meal. I, too, have been unfaithful to her, and I am ashamed. Father is slightly gentler with her than usual. What’s wrong Colleen, he whispers to her, but she just weeps.
In the hierarchical, impoverished afternoon where we are always trudging on foot, shoeless, my father and I approach the mansion. He in his lover’s attire; I ragged and torn, already orphaned. She is regal in bustier and satin gown and father and I must mind our manners, drink tea from the silver tea set and eat the French cookies nicely, one at a time. A little boy in hat and knickers embossed in the chocolate. What world I wonder has he come from, as I nibble on his toes. What world has produced this smiling, privileged long-haired youth?
What would a wealthy woman want with my father? She is purring and cooing and gurgling. I have no inkling—I am a misfit. Incapable of telling this. Freakish. I don’t get it. For I have never understood the rules of attraction, or the secrets of sex. I remain unqualified. What is an orgasm? I have no idea. It has eluded me. All of it. Always. She will lead him into the bed chamber after the appropriate protocol, this I know. I will be led into her husband’s chamber as she always refers to it. She is older. She is exquisitely bored. Surely she hopes this ruffian will provide some amusement, some diversion. What insupportable story of salvation I wonder does she tell herself? Had he a brain in his head, my father at this moment might have become a blackmailer or an extortionist or at the very least a gigolo—she was willing—perhaps too willing to pay for services rendered, with her husband’s money, maybe the ultimate aphrodisiac … To pay, if for no other reason, than to insure my father’s return. But he is an irritating, pompous man, interested only in his dime a dozen, crack pot schemes. Such is his tiresome, his uninspired, self-righteous pride! Accepting money for sexual favors would have been a dishonor, a disgrace, a sign of weakness. My father payed off my brother increasing rates to keep him quiet about these Saturday trysts. It was the currency our family traded. Money with its cruel and shameful power. Money configured the lot of us. Kept us in our proper relationships. Paying Kennedy, in the end, was the way my father maintained power over him, kept him despised and powerless. And it was the way from Kennedy’s point of view, he controlled my father, caught as they were in their paralyzed, unyielding death grips, their stunned, twinned, warped orbits.
And so it is the child in the wealthy man’s chambers who is left to take full advantage of the bleak predicament of their lives. There is money everywhere—in the man’s drawers and jackets, in the man’s cigar box, left casually, and always the same amount. It is as if the woman in bustier and the child are in some silent collaboration, some elegant co-conspiratorial arrangement. Money left on the rich man’s desk, where the child suffers—see how she suffers all afternoon sequestered in the gilded chamber.
Lady fingers. Lady slipper. All in all a lady. Look to the lady: removing her bustier now.
One way or another one must pay for one’s perversions, one’s tastes. But why the child in this airless, moneyed parlor?
On the lavish desk: writing plumes, pens and inks, paper weights, a million useless things. There’s a wing chair and a reading light in one corner so she may read. And at the end of every session, the father unlocks the door and gawks at her, wrapped in silk and jewels, expensive indelible inks on her hands. Tourists in the death palace they can’t enter, and, now, can’t ever really leave. He smiles. He believes they are, for an afternoon, possessing these rich people—owning them. What a joke.
No bribery of soda or candy can dispel the gloom on the way home. No ceremony of ice cream or sing songs. And he spits, if you were a normal kid, but I have never been normal, and now on top of it all I am mute—by election. I suppose you want those fancy cookies. I suppose you want party dresses and girly socks and all the things I can’t afford. Did I say he was never stupid? Of course he was. In the stupid, bitter, claustrophobic afternoon.
We are prisoners in this aristocracy of desire, this dull bureaucracy of want. I am locked inside with the golden key. Poor Fluke. Poor Birdie. Trapped in this unlivable, jeweled cage. I sit in the plushness of couches and press a letter opener to my throat while a background of overripe, histrionic sounds comes from another part of the vast house. If Kennedy were still alive he’d have found us by now.
In the room, I am large next to hundreds of tiny, ornate picture frames, framing I suppose, what is most precious to them: mother and father, son and daughter, captured at every age. The parade of inheritance. Family: the sanctified, official version, the heirs apparent, all holding enormous keys. Brilliant futures. Like my Harvard students. Did they know I was the poor child, standing in their houses, in the wretched afternoons, alone?
Even though we’ve parked the car some ways away, Kennedy would surely have found us by now. Pounding with the absurd door knocker. Rescuing me from this terrible tower room, where the flowers, there are so many of them, steal my breath. He would help me collect the money. And we would leave.
And the money? What did I do with it? Every week, I placed it like roses, at the feet of my mother’s statue of the Virgin. Each Saturday evening I would slip into her blue-lit sepulchre, while Mother performed her ablutions. Strange intermediary, I passed the riches, from one woman to another, under the auspices of the Blessed Mother herself. How could my mother question or refuse such a thing? No, alas, mother never questioned anything. God moved in terrible and miraculous ways. In mysterious ways. I could hear her: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, amen. For what else could I offer this wretched woman but the reiteration of her faith and some cash? Each week I brought home two hundred dollars. Perverse little wage earner. I have no idea what she did with it. Perhaps she has said some extra novenas for me. Christ knows, I could use them. I am going to rot in hell. I have, to date, refused the intercessions of the monsignor on my behalf. And every intervention. No special petitions, please.
Ludicrous, agreeing child being dragged through the agonies of another Saturday, cradling her genius and books, her pencil box and tractor, her ruler. If genius could only protect this motley picture. Can you see it? Little bookworm with her philosophies and maths in the awful afternoon. She moving miserably though the stations of the day. And her father, the peacock—shiny, dapper, smiling, accepting a gift at the door of cheap cologne. And for the child? A doll. Shirley giving him a big smack on the lips. That’s what she called it. A smack on the lips. A doll in a pink vinyl raincoat and a purple plastic poodle. She has children my age, she says. Off to their grandmother’s today.
And I am misfit again. Odd man out. Freak. Laughing stock. My father ridiculing both Shirley and me, over the doll and the plastic poodle. He hates everyone today. Another house to adjust to. This one replete with Home Sweet Home above the door, and photographs, of course, in dusty, smudged plexiglass—the dull-eyed offspring. The house decorated for Halloween. Demented jack-o-lanterns, skeletons, stunned cats. Soon there will be turkeys, pilgrims and Indians for Thanksgiving. Then the candy cane tree will be dragged out, the mute, useless angels, the bells. I sit in the kitchen admist a sea of candied apples, or Easter eggs or some such thing and wait. Those cowering, embarrassed afternoons. I open my notebook. Just scribbles—nothing really, from which occasionally significant numbers will rise or odd patterns. All of this contoured, punctuated by the odd, incomprehensible language coming from the nether world of Shirley’s bedroom, where I imagined increasingly desperate and improbable sexual events were being staged. Phrases like the rubber broke, and my father storming out into the kitchen in a rage, to collect me and shout, this is a young woman, and he was referring to me, who will never allow the rubber to break. Mark my words, he says, dismissive, superior and slams the door. Endless histrionics of the pathetic afternoon. Oh Lover Boy, oh Fever Head. The wasted afternoons.
Misery of the defeated afternoon. Look to the lady. She’s slow moving, perfumed, tremulous. But he’s too tired or something. It’s easy to hear. Impotent. She’s had it with him and his failures today. And he slinks away, feeling oddly virtuous and cheerful, and devours one ice cream after another.
Where are the husbands? All these women with their brutal, insistent need acted like my father was the only man in the world. His thick, ink-dyed hands, his blue veins, his condescension, his mild expertise drove them wild. I am making this up. A brute. Out of work, or working nights, or Sundays, and vulnerable, as a result, down on his luck—I have no idea what they saw. And I am ever-patient, scribbling and scribbling and waiting forever for Kennedy to come. Brother-hero pulling up in his shining armor. I cower. Get down on all fours. What I would see then was more obscene than anything else I was forced to witness: the violence between father and son. Trespass, and insults, and recriminations and threats and why Bernadette and not Bernadette, and she’s just a child, and your own daughter. And he lifts a hand to the half-dressed woman, whoever she is, and I oddly enough, run to protect her, Look to the lady! And Father says, for the love of God, Kennedy, how have I raised you? And Kennedy releases his clenched fist of blood, his pinched fist, and demands money in his open palm, now. And he takes me away in the tortured, incredibly sad and grievous afternoon. This quaint ceremony of male instruction and bonding done, once more at my expense, for today.
Kennedy takes me to the river. He removes his work boots, his bandanna, and he puts his head in my lap. I hold his rough skull and cradle it in the evening that comes all of a sudden. I’ll protect you, Stringbean. I’ll protect you. I’ll keep you safe.
Some time after Kennedy’s death, my father stopped taking me on his appointed rounds. It is possible that he himself around this time discontinued these forays. Though I can not really say. But one thing I know for sure. Something ended for good with Kennedy. For all of us.
Shall I confess here that I missed in a bizarre way, when those visits were finally terminated? Saturdays were suddenly empty, and I was left to my own devices. It was the only secret, the only intimacy we ever shared, and must I say it—I felt eerily closer to him as a result. Related for once. There was no other ground on which we would ever meet again. I heard his come cries. I smelled his women on him. And do you really believe this? Think about it. I despised him. Get used to it.
Connie comes in having just made her trip to the visitor’s room and today she is beaming; she’s hit it rich, she’s struck gold. We’re getting out of here Sweetheart. We’re going to heaven tonight. She calls the guard, the handsome Italian woman with the baritone voice, the one I have heard Connie whisper to in the middle of the night on the floor of the Correctional Facility, Correct me. Connie calls her into the hall to witness the ceremonial opening of the salvation package. The guard smiles. Only I am clueless as to what Connie holds, now raising it into the air. It’s the newest thing, she says. A double dildo. It’s called a Boomerang! For simultaneous penetration, it goes like this, and she tries to tempt me with it. Let’s give it a whirl. And I would love to give it a whirl—just once.
How have I forgotten Donna, until now? Bella Donna. Polish siren. Giving instructions. Smoking as she lowers herself onto his mouth. Her thighs like a vice. Not satisfied to be satisfied once. Gluttonous and indifferent to his desires. I watch because I love her, from the outside window, where she will from time to time wink at me, or give me the high five sign. I watch as he goes out, leaves us all behind with the most extraordinary bellowing and swearing and I am fatherless again. And grateful to her for it. She puts on her housedress and says I’m not finished yet; I’m not letting you off so easy, Loverboy, Feverhead, and she comes out to the garden by me for awhile in her fragrant, blooming housedress, her breasts half-exposed—not giving a damn—not giving two hoots, as my mother would always say, about anything or anyone, but her own pleasure. We lie outstretched in the sun and she brings me out a parasol to protect what she calls my perfect skin, and she brings me a glass of lemonade with a cherry in it, and she peeks in the window at my father and says, guess we got him pretty good this time? She lays down next to me and we bathe in the sun. I need to get my batteries recharged now, Darlin’, she says and she goes back in. And she’s got a million demands and ideas and positions until she is finally rendered senseless, but rises, and it is shocking the way she rises, quickly and in monostrous perfection from the ashes, larger than anything I have ever seen. And when Kennedy pulls up she says, get the fuck out of here and never come back.Donna in her perfect, uneducated intelligence and confidence. She in her sexual blur—at the height of a kind of power women get at these times. This woman who only moments before seemed so incapacitated, tortured, weeping even—now resurrected, intoxicated and intoxicating.
And I am two-minded. And I am two-hearted. I feared and loathed these women who disrupted everything, who turned us all into stooges in the ghastly afternoon. But I am also irresistibly touched by them. Their willingness to imagine a way free, on an unlikely afternoon once in May, with a bragging, silly peacock, crackpot.
My heart hurts. The bloody, fibrous stubborn organ feels turned inside out. The tip hurts. I can’t even describe or imagine what the tip might be—but the pain—strange, insistent, blunt. My brother whispering Little Beanie, I’ll keep you safe.
Connie ambles in again still holding her Boomerang. She knows better than most that what goes around comes around. Yet there is hope, one day if her behavior improves, she might get out of here. Only I am sequestered on death row. I am the one in ripped prison garb, Connie the one with sewing kit, dreaming. I’d think you’d seen a lot of action, she says, if I didn’t know better. What a waste. In the wasted afternoon. My compromised clothes.
Connie asks me what I am writing in the Death Book today. Because they are trying to rehabilitate her, correct her, because they somehow must try to imagine her out in the world again, she is forced to attend group therapy. She has just come from a session of sharing and caring as she calls it and she is practicing now on me. She must go five times a week because she does not as she explains, engage well. For practice, she is to ask what is on one’s mind, what I am writing in my infamous Death Book for instance and then through an act of empathy she is to try to identify with the situation and to think of a comparable experience in her own life.
Because I am fond of Connie and would like to help if I can, even in a fatuous recovery, I tell her in brief, about accompanying my father on his Saturday afternoon escapades. Connie brightens, pleased to so easily be able to relate, to call up a story of her own. She laughs with crazy glee, and remembers Lyle, her own father on the farm in upstate New York. Already one can feel the peril of this caring and sharing routine. She too accompanied her father on dates!she exclaims.
You’ve got to picture it: they’re in the wilds, somewhere up near the Canadian border and they’re driving and driving—Lyle, the semi-retarded father and our Connie, the child, say eight or nine-years-old. They’re in a truck and he’s carrying in the back, huge cylinders, huge vats of what Connie calls cow giz. It’s his job to inseminate every cow from here to kingdom come with this enormous plunge gun. And Connie, she’s not allowed in the barn, but sometimes she’ll sneak in anyway to see the cows raised up on these amazing contraptions, splayed and humiliated, legs dangling, bellowing and afraid. But at the same time, bovine, mysterious, wielding extraordinary power, even grace, in that position. The child sits with the farmers’ wives in the bright farm kitchens. Connie pulls the skin from her face to show what they looked like with their hair pulled back into tight, little buns, in the ghastly heat of the afternoon. And she is offered milk and cookies every time and they sit in silence, little Connie and the grim wives. The husbands away, of course, out birthing or something at nearby farms. Cookies and milk and little chit chat against the muling and braying of cows, against the heaving pulse of the barn. Lyle drooling in his drenched overalls, wielding his blunt and clumsy, his extraordinary elixir. Oh the throbbing churn of it all! Now ladies! His passionate, deranged face. Connie waiting with the demure wives. And when its finally over, Lyle with his slurred stare knocks on the kitchen door to collect Connie, spent, nudging her to the next farm, far off.
She has left the door ajar and I wander into the room where my father sleeps under a cashmere blanket. He is a bauble, an ornament on this highly decorated stage. He is an acquisition, a pride. He is breathing evenly and lightly, his mouth slightly open in the great chamber. Vulnerable beyond belief, free of worry for once. He is barely recognizable separated from his malarkey for awhile. How strange, how silent. He seems to be smiling a little, in this gilded cage. Pathetic, trapped bird, whom I love. Helpless, but mercifully unaware, surrounded by the extraordinarily bright and glittering framed photographs of strangers. Babies with already so much more than we’ll ever have.
Who will love us. Who will love us, unposed, out of focus, roaming outside the picture plane, unframed, toward home? Who will love us? Blurry, torn, overexposed?
I pierce my pinkie nail into his hand. Nothing wakens him. I try others—my forefinger, my thumbnail. He sleeps. And we float above our own poverty for a moment, and are given a brief intimation of escape somehow; a glimpse, in that vast room. There in the precious, lost time of the madrigals, where we dangle. Poor, strung-up marionettes in this cruel, bafoonish pageant. Who has pulled us into these knotted, contorted postures? Who has broken us? Our wings beating against this vaulted, ornate ceiling until we are bloodied and we drop.
It is me on the floor. In a bleak confetti of self: scribbling, wishing. Birdbones. Beanstalk. Two hoots. Oh Loverboy. Oh Fever Head. Demented, lady fingers. The car’s broken down again. Two hundred dollars. In the Godless, fatherless, impoverished afternoon. Little Beanie. Hour of death. Who will help us now?
Carole Maso is the author of four novels. The American Woman in the Chinese Hat, published last spring by Dalkey Archive Press will be released in paperback by Dutton in 1995. Her third novel, AVA, will be reprinted by Dalkey. And Maso’s first two novels, Ghost Dance and The Art Lover, will be reissued by Ecco Press this coming Spring. She teaches at Columbia University and is writer-in-residence this Fall at Brown University.
I believe that each of us is given one sentence at birth, and we spend the rest of our life trying to read that sentence and make sense of it.
Li Young Lee