Friday, February 28, 2014

Workday in Abstraction

Crouched back on my heels, black dress folded over me and black jacket bunched and flaring behind me, I felt like a Corvid. Slipped from a roost, watchful. Bent almost to the ground beside the vending machine, the wide lunch atrium expands above me; the brilliant white ceiling makes me want to dig my stilettos into the ground and launch my body to the light.

Away from the dark recess from which I’m scavenging a water bottle.

Today, however, the universe has dropped a bag over my head and is working me with the jess. Empty spaces are only so big. The dress only sways because my ankles are restrained. A long, serviceable black that recreates me in a block of shadow. The old-fashioned sounding “serviceable” brings to mind children’s stories--long black dresses lead inevitably to witches. Waiting for a knock on the door.

Last weekend, my brother told me how he was now saying an uninterrupted “yes” to the Universe. Everything was lining up, working out. He stated this after we discovered the unexpected curbside parking space he’d just scored was right in front of the place were going. His myths begin to sound like they come from the front of an auditorium. The Universe offers you something, you take it. Managers fail upward. All of which makes me think of fat cartoon men in suits floating like balloons between a flat green grass ground and a flat blue line of sky. Tie a string around an ankle and run your manager balloon down the field.

Be open to the possibility of mediocrity, that you will never fail upward far enough.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Morning After the Night Before

Walking in the fog makes me aware of air as a volume. Unlike a breeze or the solid humidity of summer, fog is loosely tangible and, especially when I’m navigating half by sidelong glances and half through the screen of my camera, it can be a disorienting sensation to feel your movement through the air and the accumulation of it on your skin. My ankles lift as my skin wishes the air were thick enough to allow me to float.

The camellias and magnolias are blooming, along with something that was less showy but highly scented. Between the tangible air, the heavy perfume, and the tumbled camellia blossoms, it was like walking through the remnants of a ballroom that had popped like a bubble the night before.
It is Sunday morning, so silent that I discard the ballroom image for one of an open Cathedral, bounded by the visibility of the air itself and full of tired, blowsy worshippers who are weeping their prayers into the morning. Despite the heavy drops that fall from the taller trees, poking my shoulder like people jostling in a crowd—the air itself is crowded, today—despite this, webs are invisible and I have walked through several.
Between the webs and the mist, I am constantly aware of the tops of my socks, the edges of my shorts, and my bare arms. Everything is muted except for the sensation of moving through this space, placing my feet carefully on the slick brick paths. I brush at the webs, but another one wraps around me and I begin to imagine legs in my hair, at the edge of my neckline.

Briefly, the idea of a spider peering out from the edge of my shirt at the park seems companionable; it is very still this morning. Then I think of eyes piled on eyes and I shudder. My fingers begin brushing at my arms again.

Just before I leave, still thinking about the silence, I come upon the remnants of a celebration. Tiny, shiny confetti “congratulations” litter a small area by a bench. Yesterday, my brother had mentioned that he took pictures of things that reminded him that other people had been on the path before him—a coke can left at the side of the path, a smear of orange paint left by the park staff as they marked off areas for change. I’m not enough like him to be grateful for this splash of trash, to incorporate it into the exploded dance I imagined. As the fog lifts, leaving the heaviness of my body for my knees and ankles, I let the image fall away, detritus in the imagination.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reverie On Wheels

I took the school-heavy route to work yesterday, not really intending to spend so much time staring at the sidewalks, waiting out the lines. A sunny spring morning is a good time to see families trooping to elementary school, particularly in the suburban neighborhoods near the office.

Most of the parents trailing along with their children were on foot or bicycle, except for one dad. He was traveling away from campus on a small neon green skateboard, hips shifting, body relaxed. He was in jeans and demin shirt, casual enough for working from home—but he was skimming over the concrete as if he could daydream his way home without looking down. Maybe he was a little heavy or had a tonsure more monk than dude. Perhaps there isn’t much difference in the absorption of the moment.

Skateboard Dad made me think of my brother and my nephew, both of whom enjoy longboards and long concrete paths. Although I don’t have the balance the required, watching the grace-in-balance of someone on a skateboard lifts me up. My entire Thursday ran on the parallel tracks of pushing pixels into place and slipping under tree shadows, relaxed into the board.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sleet and Teeth

The paw tracks appear on the coldest February mornings, just as Brad is leaving for work. We replaced the carpet and painted when we moved in, but a cold track appears just the same. A thin edge of ice reveals the print of a Labrador-sized dog. Just the one set of prints, from the edge of the tile in the kitchen to the middle of the great room carpet. Brad ignores them. He doesn’t want to be tied down by pets or be one of those families who resort to externalizing their problems—his words, said while talking me down from an anxiety attack. No ghosts. No brain tumors hallucinations. Ill-fitting seals. Breathe.

Brad doesn’t know, but I put a bowl of water down in the morning before I plug in the phone and log in to work. Sometimes a chill comes to settle against my legs while I’m talking or typing, and it reassures me.

I had just filled the bowl when the wind started. A gust shuddered the back door, which doesn’t extend all the way to the jam. It was just below freezing and the thump of the door was followed by a rattle. My first thought was bones banging against the door, dead clouds dropping their bird-bone knuckles on us. Panic swung me around. I saw the sleet hitting the window.

Something squeaked. I thought it was me, strangling my own yell. There wasn’t anyone here to talk me down. A chill folded around my ankles and another burst of sleet shattered against the window. Something grey rose up in the window and before I could think “Brad’s grill cover” a thick grey mouth hit the glass.

A frozen shark attacked the window. Another burst of wind, another glimpse of icicle teeth, a frozen white underbelly and a tiny black eye. This time, the teeth scratched the window and broke. My ankles warmed up as a shadow coalesced by the back door, barking. The water bowl fell, shattering against the tile.

Stormlight filled the kitchen with cold grey and I saw the shark drawn back into the yard by a heavy gust. The grill was naked and covered with ice but the grey form was no longer a cover. The leak under the door was like a riptide, pulling me closer to the monster in my backyard, tugging me over the slick, gritty remnants of the water bowl. The thin rug in front of the door ruched up and the wind dropped. My feet were bleeding.

A grey hunger slammed the window again. A loud crack webbed the window. Over the sound of the wind and the heavy sounds of the creature inflating in each gust, I heard a sharp bark and then something slapped the door; something heavy.

The shark hesitated, some of the ice cracking from its skin. The door thumped again and I took a breath. “Get ‘im, boy.” I grabbed the knob, flipped the lock, and opened the back door.

Ice teeth bared, the grey form surged forward. Before it reached the door sill, the nose crumpled and the frozen skin cracked. It snapped at me, unfolding a jaw that was lined with glassy teeth. It was larger than I was and my feet were still bleeding across the tile. It writhed, straining just to the sill, close enough that I could feel the massive cold swelling into the house.

An impact dented its side and it turned, snapping onto something I couldn’t see. Then it was dragged down on the concrete, skin shattering, teeth breaking, and the great black eye—a frozen leave, I saw now, rolling off the edge of the porch.

I was so cold. Sleet hammered against the tile. “Come here, come on, come back in,” I said. Over and over, trying to call something back into the house. My legs were too cold to feel anything subtle. The soles of my feet burned against the cold grit. I stared at the uncovered grill, the crushed cover, and the sleet covering the lawn. It had turned to snow. A track of prints dashed around the yard.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A New Path

He pulled a thin stem ending a tight bud from the small star magnolia tree as we followed the trail through a grey February morning in which the trees mullioned the sky in a crazy leading of dark branches. I was cold and moving through the public gardens as if they were a jogging trail, walking too fast to do much more than frown at the man who snapped the branch as I passed.

I thought he might have waited until I had come close enough to see his fingers on the branch before he tugged it away from the bare mass of other branches, most ending in those little flares of grey green buds. They were still pulled tight and I pulled my jacket closer to my neck as I passed.

The gardens are usually mostly empty, and few of the people wandering the grounds speak to you; however, when he fell into step beside me, he didn’t seem to take up enough space for his joining me to feel invasive. We walked for a few steps before he stopped at another tree and said, “If you’ll wait a bit, I’ll open the gate by the fairy pond and show you how the creek strand below that hollow.”

My feet stopped at the sound of his voice and I glanced over to verify park insignia on his jacket. He wasn’t wearing a jacket, just a pair of skinny, forest-green jeans and what looked like a faded camouflage sweatshirt. He looked official. Even his hair was pulled tight to his skull; silver-brown as a squirrel’s and now that I’d stopped and he turned back to the tree, I saw that it was braided tightly and hung down to just below his belt. He was thinner than I’d thought at first—his shirt puffed out as he reached among the branches of another magnolia.

The camo print was different from most of the one’s I’d seen before. This one seemed to be printed with subtle diamonds of silver, green, and tan maple bark; a design for a woodland Harlequin. I looked around and saw a few people wandering in the gardens, closer to the formal sections. Watching them, I rolled my head around once, relaxing my shoulders.

After he’d checked the branches, we walked together to the section where a fairy pond had been created. There were two ponds, one shallow enough to show the bottom year round and the other just deep enough for the leaves to tan the water to opacity. There was a bench overlooking the larger pond and a tiny Japanese maple, barely visible amongst the other bare stems arching over the water. There was bench beside the smaller pond, on a raised path beside another magnolia tree. We were taking the path that led by the railing around the larger pond.

I stopped to curl my hands around the iron railings, but my companion kept going to the gate on the other side of the path. Here, the pond drained down a slope into Cypress Creek. It wasn’t always locked, but you weren’t supposed to leave the paths. He opened the gate and waved a hand over the opening. “Watch your feet and hold on to the railing until I get a light.”

The gate opened onto a six-inch drop onto uneven ground beside a trickle of water that left the ground soft and friable. I swung myself around, balancing on the ground and clinging to the railing. Snakes lived in the pond, I’d seen them. It was cold, but that probably would just make them cranky.
As I tried to avoid sinking up to my ankles in mud and giving the snakes a chance, my companion jumped lightly down and closed the gate. He then took the magnolia bud and struck it against the edge of the brick and concrete path.

The flower opened with a snap and burst of light, as if he’d struck a match instead of a flowerbud. Light sloshed out of the blossom, running down his arm like wax. The narrow drainage area was suddenly greener; although not much brighter.

I glanced at the gate, but it seemed that the railing no longer had an opening and, as the light diffused to where I was standing, the iron I was holding seemed to burn my hand like acid. I let go of the bars, shaking my hands and looking at my palms.

“It’s not a permanent injury,” he said. Lifting the flower up, he showed me a sandy footpath. “My name’s Robin. Let’s continue our walk along here.”

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Things I Don't Want to Forget

I had to run down to my old stomping grounds this afternoon and ended up eating at the Schlotzsky's not far from what used to be my old office building. Maybe this isn't how you handle running up against reminders of what could have been the "last good thing"--relationship, job, whatever--but I tend to poke at it; drive around, visit landmarks, wax nostalgic, the whole nine yards. So after spending a few tense moments sort of mooning out the window at the old office building...I mean, being in Westchase just trips all kinds of triggers...I ended up driving around and finding out the old office building now houses some other company. There are designer apartments accreting all around the area. And the Supercuts where The Pumpkin King used to get his hair cut is still there, even if few other familiar businesses are. Of course, when I drove by the green glass building, the one with the glass pyramid above the lobby that I remember when it was just an architect's rendering, it looked tired, reflecting the grey afternoon as if it was hollow.

The old comic book store is gone, as is the Cajun restaurant on the corner. Shopping centers are huge and anchored by all the familiar suspects, although they aren't the same ones that were here ten years ago. Driving out toward West Oaks is the nostalgia equivalent of playing a chord: I remember driving out this way in college, when the Pumpkin King and I were ensconced in that first house, and just before we moved, after several months of dealing with unemployment and living in an apartment after selling the house. Something tells me it would be a minor chord.

And driving. I forget the way that we used to spend so much time in the car; both of us to & from work and then out in the evenings and on the weekends. Roads like rivers; push your car into the flow and negotiate the width of the moving traffic. I forget the way I used to be in love with my car.

Out of this, out on the northern edge of the county, it's easy to forget the weight of four lanes each way and twenty stories of glass and concrete on every corner.

Remembering it gives dimension to the present. It wakes me up from the desire to huddle in the house. I remember that I used to know how to swim. I can learn again.