by Randolyn Zinn
Meditative Rose by Salvador Dali
He walks into a millinery shop in Back Bay, looking for a straw Panama.
“Do you have any Persian lamb Papakhas?” he asks, just for the hell of it.
“We don’t work with skins,” the milliner replies, coiling a cloth measuring tape between his fingers. In the back workroom, a hot iron hisses as held by a red-faced girl with chubby arms, who yawns as she presses a piece of striped ribbon.
“Do you know,” Owen says, eager to impress the shopkeeper, “that President Karzai’s Afghan Karacul hat is made from the downy fur of aborted lamb fetuses?”
The milliner sniffs. “Is there something I can help you with, sir?”
Owen tries on every hat in the store. The porkpie is too retro. The Basque beret a bit better, and in the gray Fedora with a white grosgrain ribbon band, he’s a dead ringer for a 1920’s Chicago gunrunner. Not good.
“I’ll take this one in straw,” he says, fingering a Borsalino. “How much?”
“Only in felt, sir. We only deal in felt. And wool.”
Owen’s neck reddens and puffs out like the feathers on a parrot. “How idiotic,” he spits. “Aren’t you a hat store? I want a hat.”
He storms out of the shop and a little bell at the top of the door jangles like an angry fairy when it closes behind him. He knows he’s been unreasonable, but can’t help himself. He’s inconsolable.
Neighbors pushing grocery carts or sitting on benches look up as he passes, the violence of his exit a palpable disturbance to their calm.
He’s sweating and would like to find a pizza parlor to rest in, drink a Coke through a straw maybe, but his shoes are too tight to walk much further. In thirty years he’s never found a pair of shoes that fit properly. He curses all shoemakers, the milliner, and his phenomenally bad luck.
A woman walks by and he recognizes the fragrance that perfumes the molecules in her wake. Down a side street and around the next corner he follows her, limping, until she turns around to face him.
“Wait a minute,” he says, fumbling in his coat pockets for a scrap of paper. “I want to ask you something.” He notices that his heart is bubbling and then everything turns wavy in front of his eyes like a Mylar panel gone lax.
“Are you all right?” the woman asks.
His tears bounce on the pavement, like like beach balls in slow motion animated cartoon, plop plop.
“Should I call someone?”
“No, no need,” he manages to say, surprised he can muster enough breath tospeak. He wipes his nose with his Irish linen handkerchief, the one she bought for him years ago as he slumps against the brick wall. “I’ve written three new poems since you left.”
Get a hold of yourself, he could swear she says, her consonants sharp, driven in, as if nailing him down.
“Come back,” he croaks, reaching towards her, but she has pulled out her phone and is stabbing numbers on the keypad.
“Who are you calling? Our daughter Livy?”
She turns away to whisper into the phone then clicks the handset shut with the swift, confident sound of matters having been taken in hand. “They’ll be here soon,” she says. “I’ll wait with you.” ,
“I’ve been trying to find a Panama,” he says, grabbing the soft edges of her last remark. “Like the one I lost in Venice, remember?”
The woman draws her eyebrows together, shifts her bag to the other shoulder, flips her hair back and he falls off a precipice of grief just behind his breastbone. The contrary defiance that has always starched his backbone goes slack.
This is what becomes of my philosophy, he sobs wordlessly into the collar of his coat. Decadent wastrel. Fool. The sum total of all my mistakes. She’s probably shaking her head now.
He’s used up all her forgiveness. Owen was never a contented husband, hardly the true blue type.
This is not the time to let down, he thinks. This is the moment to do something remarkable.
He lifts his eyes to tell her he’s changed, but this woman isn’t Finn, his wife. This woman is a kind stranger. He focuses on her heels in order to not slip away…how they taper to two sharp points that could easily pin his tears to the pavement.
It's Andrew Mackay Jr. peeling off his clothes as she stretches out naked under the cool white sheet. About to lose their virginities to each other, they are sensible to the occasion. No giggles. They’ll guts through the uncomfortable parts, pretending to make romance, which will justify their trespass.
A dog barks under the window of the woodsy New Hampshire motel cabin they’ve taken for the night. Must be the manager’s mutt, she thinks. A weekend away from school, a road trip for doing the deed. Their essays due on Monday will have to wait.
She closes her eyes and Louis Edmond pops into her thoughts, her soul mate from high school that never so much as kissed her, why is that? She wishes Louis was the one taking his glasses off now, except that Louis never wore glasses.
Andrew holds his chapped lips slightly apart, like a kid with a stuffy nose so he can breathe through his mouth. Deviated septum. He pulls down the sheet covering Hester’s body, his eyes grateful as he leans over to kiss her collarbone and the smooth cones of her breasts.
His appetite is bigger than hers, but she thinks that it’s nice to be wanted. She holds steady to embrace the idea of what she’s doing, which turns out to be more enthralling than the details. She watches what happens, pretending to engage with what she’s never practiced. This is not the real thing at all, she assures herself, couldn’t be.
Afterwards she slips out of bed to the black and pink-tiled bathroom to find out if she looks different. She admires her taut chin line and flushed shine reflected back in the mirror, aware that she’s alive in her beauty’s apotheosis, incapable of fathoming its ineffable truth that eventually, time will prove.
What is Louis Edmond doing these days, she wonders. And where is he?
Lightning cracks like exploding bombs in the distance, and with each hit draws nearer. Walter falls off a precipice of fear behind his chest. He wants to run but his legs feel too heavy to move. He wonders where his father has gone; maybe he’s still in the house.
He watches as the wind plasters Hester’s skirt against her legs. Her hair blows into her face as she struggles to unlatch the underground bunker, but the door won’t budge. Walter doesn’t remember building a bunker in the yard nor does he recognize the house. Where are they? Not at Hill House.
He hears a whistle from the field and when he turns to look, there he is out beyond the hedgerow, waving and holding up a martini glass.
Walter flares. It’s so like Samuel to see danger and do nothing about it.
A crashing boom to his left and a second later a tree splits in two, erupting in a smoky blaze of heat.
She dives into the crackling cold lake of her camp. Pines hug the lake's perimeter with their pointy tops like green church steeples pointing towards heaven. Their elegant green arms slope as if heavy with fragrant prayers. The water looks clear when it runs through her fingers but is picture postcard blue when seen from a distance. Her point of view shifts back and forth like that, close-up to long shot, glass clear to azure, from being here in the moment to wish-you-were-here now.
The velocity of her body carves a descending tunnel into the viscous water, slapping hard like a solid object against her flesh. Sound changes beneath the surface, either obscuring the racket of the earth’s drier elements or slowing down the frequencies with bubbles as top notes.
As she comes back up she imagines herself breaking through the glassy skin of the top layer of the lake like a beaver, droplets sparkling when she shakes her head, to fly like a fistful of diamonds thrown in the sun. She squints towards the shore and sees Livy and Evan sitting on a small red towel. She’s surprised to find them there. She waves.
Evan leans over and kisses Livy.
“What are you doing?” she yells.
Evan is Zoe’s boyfriend.
“A school project,” Livy calls back.
Zoë makes her way towards the beach, holding her arms above her waist, but the weight and mass of the water slow down her progress. Her legs feel so heavy pushing through the water. Halfway to the beach, her feet touch bottom again and she stands waist-high. She shivers, wraps her arms around her stomach. A sharp pebble cuts the sole of her foot, and when she bends down to inspect the wound, Evan and Livy run into the woods.
Twisted up in striped sheets, the empty pint of Southern Comfort has fallen under the bed as she tries to sleep. The room is spinning, so she tries to keep one foot on the floor.
Shifting scenes flash and cross-cut through her mind as she drifts in and out of sleep. In one, she finds a bloodstain in her shorts and sets off in search of a bathroom, but the airplane’s facility is Occupado and there’s isn’t another to be found along the endless airport hallway.
Next, like a jiggly hand-held close-up shot, she looks down at her feet walking along a path in the woods. The lime white stones glow pale and luminous underfoot with the shining image of her mother’s face. As she reaches into her pocket for her passport, she’s suddenly standing high at a window in the Leaning Tower of Pisa, watching her passport fall, spiraling down to the pavement like a slow motion gravity experiment.
A glazier tends a roaring glassworks furnace, its open front like a Vulcan maw, orange hot. Finn watches as he reaches in with his bare hands and pulls out an object glowing with phosphorescent heat.
She looks closer to see that the object is made of muscle, not glass, and understands instantly that it is her heart.
A soiled, dog-eared copy of The Egyptian Book of the Dead lays open on a table and she’s surprised that she can decipher its hieroglyphics…something about Isis holding her son by the heels in the fire.
When the glazier plunges the heart into a water bath, it sizzles, then he turns towards Finn and she nods back.
This place feels familiar, she thinks, I’ve been here before.