I choose a shiny gold mini-skirt and hot pink tank top and Sarah asks if Barbie will be cold but I say it’s always warm in Malibu, the sun shines all day, every day, and Sarah says that sounds nice and I say I wish I could live there as I push the skirt up Barbie’s long rubber legs up to her tan secret place not like mine but fused together so nothing can get in, and I rub my fingers against the plastic between her legs and I say she is so lucky but Sarah wonders how Barbie pees and I say she doesn’t need to use that part because she is special and then I pet the smooth bumps on Barbie’s chest and tell Sarah that Barbie’s hands look like checkmarks, and Sarah says yeah, I guess so and I feel sad that Barbie can only wave hello from her balcony or show off the fake diamond forced through a hole in her hand like the Mary statue at church—the one my neighbor said she saw bleeding—but then I notice another doll on Sarah’s bed that looks just like Barbie only with dark hair and Sarah tells me her name is Steffie while she strips off Ken’s bellbottoms down to the skin-colored underwear he can’t take off but I think that doesn’t matter because his hands are much bigger than Barbie’s and shaped more like real hands and are free to do as he pleases, and then I hear Sarah’s mom walking up the stairs to tell me my Mom is waiting in the car and I tell Sarah she is so lucky to have a two-floor house because mine is only one floor and you can hear everything happening in every room all the time, and I say Barbie wants to have Steffie over instead of Ken but Sarah says no, Ken and Barbie are boyfriend girlfriend and they want to be alone and I say okay because Momma says I have to be respectful when I’m a guest in someone’s home and I shouldn’t say no, not there or in school or at home or church, just smile like Barbie does through the white between her lips that is supposed to be teeth but to me look like a bandage stuffed in her mouth so nothing can get out.
Predictably (The Heart of the Matter)
(Predictably) Gwyn started telling me about her latest online dating catch—forgetting (I suppose) that I had just (three hours ago) had a pelvic ultrasound and was worrying about the fibroids (not that she asked)—and got so excited (off to the races again) that she leaned over the table (practically knocking over my margarita) and whispered (Her whisper belongs on a Broadway stage, and everyone in the restaurant probably heard her.) that he was “great in the sack” (who says these things…) and even “went downtown” (…in public?) before she asked him, and that it was so nice, especially after so many bad marriages (her third husband was really sweet, actually, and it’s beyond me how her fourth husband put up with her narcissism) and failed dates, to meet a guy who isn’t a complete narcissist (How would she know, being a narcissist?) and considers her needs, and that she hoped to see him next weekend (so much for our plans) to do some hiking (which is exactly what I can’t do because of my ankle, and she must know this, although it’s hard to say what registers with her, because she’s a complete narcissist—and this really is [if you want to know] the heart of the matter, in terms of our inability to have a real conversation) and then have dinner with this guy and his teenage son (barreling right into the poor kid’s life and probably introducing herself [prematurely] as “your dad’s girlfriend”) before ditching the kid (she won’t even bother to ask about his interests in school) to go upstairs to the plush (predictable) master bedroom in this guy’s McMansion (assuming he’s like all the other guys she’s dated) while the kid tries to figure out (especially if he can’t drive) how to escape the sounds of his dad “going downtown” (He could put on headphones and play video games, though I like to imagine him as a bookish kid [the sort of kid I would raise, if I had a kid] who would take shelter in the garage from the upstairs ruckus, curl up in his dad’s SUV and read Gone Girl [which is what I would read] to distract himself), in the (same) way I’m (still) trying (and failing) to distract myself (maybe I should buy that purse) from Gwyn’s wildly insensitive behavior (She knows I can’t even remember the last time I went on a date, and it’s not for lack of trying [to date, or to remember]) and her weird (stage-) whispered comments that “he’s the one,” but really, when I get a grip (hard to do these days), I have to ask myself (again), “Who can blame Gwyn for being so happy in this moment (to be fair to myself, she has had so many idiotic moments), and for (naively) falling in love? (I can),” and anyway, it’s her turn to treat for lunch (I’ll order the salmon filet), so I should (at least) feign interest in this guy and his poor kid.
like a comma at the end of a sentence, having entered the room in the middle of things, or rather, between one thing and another, because the thing that would have gone on without me is changed by my presence, split into a before and an after, bifurcated by that death-like pause in the middle, that endless instant when every eye in the place—whether glancing, staring, or pointedly looking away—registers my appearance, when fight or flight shoots through me like a bolt, staking me to the spot even as my imagination goes running, knowing that she has been talking, that she has poked a little peep hole into our private space and let everyone have a gape, showing me up as the Bad Husband, because these are her friends after all, not mine (my “bachelor friends,” she calls them, though they are all married now, too, and over the years have drifted away, one by one, existing only as occasional visitations from another world, leaving me in this circle I feel convicted was drawn not by my own hand, but nevertheless in whose contours I see every decision I have made since the age of puberty), and I smile, and I make friendly, and I find her on my way to the bar, aiming a kiss that I know she will dodge, and I pretend not to notice, because I know my place, just as I knew it yesterday, and as I will know it tomorrow, this enclosure that moves through time but is ever unchanging—“It’s called commitment,” she likes to say, “It’s called belonging…It’s called love”—and I know what she means, and I am committed, and I like belonging, and I do love, but at moments like this, when I am in a room like this, with people like this, when the present is an ouroboros of past and future swallowing its tail, and I see the ends engulfing themselves into nothingness, I feel lost—lost, but not unfixed, rather profoundly mis-fixed—placed, but out of place,
All the Young Men Fell in the War
In the courtyard, on a sagging clothesline, my landlady’s woolen undergarments hang like a row of flattened elephants, dripping teardrops on the cracked cement.
Too Soon for Shiva
My mother says this is something Jews do in mourning—cover photos with cloth so as to shield themselves from the past, or complete the absence of the person who’s gone—and watches, helpless, as I remove framed pictures from the wall, unpin posters, blanket my books and college diploma while mumbling something, most likely the word “no” on loop, until I’ve exhausted myself and collapse on the bed, not quite ready for sleep, but done with another impulsive, unexplainable action that makes me wonder when wellness will come and stay for longer than a day or hour and will instead settle in so that I may settle down, so that my mother doesn’t have to walk into my room in the morning and be reminded of a shiva.
The Same Woman
I wasn’t following her I was just going the same way down the grocery store pasta aisle, little green dress bounce dance grass Converse doublestep gone down despite wounds, bare legs gingham cotton dancing skipping young young down checkerboard linoleum, down Thursday, desire nestled in boxes, pictures of little red tomatoes when her scars pulled tight across the back of her knees, recent bud rose like she should’ve still been wearing bandages and she cried out when the stitches broke free and flew away but she kept on dancing, let them tear, and instead of blood, light came out.