Sunday, October 23, 2011

Baked Goods.

J.P. Henderhorff was old. But, more important than his being old, J.P. Henderhorff was comfortable. He was very comfortable. The old man had just settled into his large red recliner, the one that conformed so perfectly with his angular frame, that lovely chair, a gift from his grandchildren, a token of their love (though really an excuse not to visit him), when the fire alarm for his building went off. Rhythmic, grating shrieks, a howling banshee, a thin one, looking for crackers. But J.P. did not have any crackers. What an inconvenience, he thought. His breathing had finally slowed (sitting exhausted him), his back had sunken into the cushion, and he had just picked up the remote and aimed it at the television, his arm steadying to hit the blue button that would spring the black screen back to life. 

J.P. turned from what was almost the Golf Channel to identify the source of the noise. He finally noticed his apartment was opaque, that there were cloud shapes floating past the insides of his windows; and at first he thought the smoke was coming from the oven, that maybe his wife had forgotten a tray of sweets that was burning, until he remembered that his wife was dead, a fact he was constantly forgetting, one he oft caught himself in the middle of when shouted her name for her to come help him look for where he'd lost the remote control. 

(She had fallen down three flights of stairs, his wife, on her way up from grocery shopping, slipped on a slimy new egg that she dropped.)

J.P. let out an old man’s “Oh!”, the kind of sound flour makes when you pour milk into it, the sound something dry makes when it is both wet and dry simultaneously, and he rose from his chair, slowly, wincing in pain when both of his knees popped.

Pop. Pop. Pain. 

J.P. stared at the door in front of him. Smoke was sneaking through the gap at the bottom of the frame in billowy puffs. He thought about the stairs. All those God damn stairs he would walk down. Who says you can’t use an elevator in a fire, he thought. Who the hell says? And again the thought of the stairs exhausted him. There was no way an old man such as he would be able to walk eleven concrete flights, his knees popping painfully all the while.

Pop, pop, pop. He winced at the thought.

He bent forward slightly and leaned back, letting gravity take over. He fell backward into the chair and settled in, reassumed his comfortable position, closed his eyes. He breathed in deep through his nose and smiled. When the smoke started making him delirious, the smile grew wider: grew and grew in anticipation of the baked goods his wife would soon be waddling out him, her asking who was hungry while the platter smoked between her mittens protecting her thin and bony fingers.

Double A surname.

I had a dream about Anne Sexton last night. There's a name for you. Anne. Anne Sexton. We're supposed to be reading her poems for my Intro to Lit class. I opened the assignment late last night after I got home from work (thank goodness community colleges are so accommodating to the stay at home thirty-somethings) smelling like oysters, and fell asleep staring at the small black and white photo crested into the right hand corner of her biography. She was beautiful, I remember thinking, before I drifted off to sleep. So beautiful, Anne Sexton. So beautiful. 

In the dream I was working on an assembly line. Rushing past me, too fast for my hands to keep up, were hundreds and thousands of bananas. I know it's suggestive and freudian, but it couldn't be helped. Things were underway. The fast bananas are evidence of that. Anyway, the dream . . . 

The conveyor belt broke down while I was reaching for those speeding peels. Just started smoking and sputtering and then whistles were blowing everywhere and the boss -- a giant gorilla, I know, innate, right? -- sent everybody home for the day. It was gray outside in my dream. The clouds growled like an empty stomach and I knew soon the world would be wet as a seal's nose. I found my car and got in. I started to drive home, even though I didn't even know where home was in this town, picked a direction and turned on my blinker. After all, this wasn't my usual job. It started raining. I was driving and it was pouring and then there, walking in the thick of it, briskly, in a heavy green overcoat with her shoulders hunched forward, was Anne. Anne Sexton. I slowed down and pulled my car over closer to the sidewalk. I rolled my window down. 

"Anne," I shouted. "Anne Sexton!" She looked over. She raised her eyebrows. And you know how dreams are. She was in the car. Then we were in a trailer somewhere, which was strange, because I've never even been in a trailer, but somehow my brain knew just what to make one look like. The trailer was dark, dimly lit, with brown shag carpeting and awful looking green curtains -- the ones with those ratty looking tail things at the end of them? -- and I was brewing some tea and Anne, Anne Sexton, was sitting in a large recliner, a green plush one she kept sinking into in her green overcoat, which I had forgotten to take off and hang up for her. I kept trying to think of something to say. 

"Sorry about, you know, the mess," I said, gesturing to the tiny trailer. "But I don't even live here. You understand."

"Yes," she said, trying to make herself comfortable, pushing herself up by using the chairs oddly large arms for leverage. She grunted. "I know how it is." 

"Say," I said. "We're reading some of your poetry right now in a class I'm in." She turned her head sideways and looked at me, those shimmering silver eyes. It felt like someone had placed a coal on the back of my neck. That's how intense it was when this lady looked at you. She was something, that Anne Sexton.  

"Well," she pronounced, slowly, "What do you think?" 

I blushed. "I - didn't read them yet," I said. "I fell asleep looking at your picture."

She didn't smile. But, it was something with her eyes. She was smiling. They were smiling, actually. Her eyes. She was looking away from me, past me, through something, through the words I had just spoken, watching as they sunk through the air behind me on their way to the floor. She followed them. When they reached the carpet and sunk in like an old stain she nodded and said, "I could never love a man who's read my poetry." 

"Excuse me?" 

"I could never love him. He would know me. I think a man should think a woman is a mystery. A man should never understand a woman. A man should be able to make a woman fall apart in his hands like dry snow." 

The water I was heating for the tea began to boil. I took a step toward her. She was staring at me now. The burning feeling had moved lower, only the actual burning subsided. It was a low warmth now, spreading, too, along my thighs, trickling into my feet which felt lighter, suddenly, lighter than ever. I felt like dancing. I had never danced before. Or played the trumpet. But I knew I could then, if I wanted to. I heard it somewhere far off. Trumpets. A sea of them. A cacophony. But there was beauty in its discourse. I was going to dance with her to it.

I extended my hand. "Anne," I said. "Anne Sexton. Would you like to dance with me?"

She reached out and grabbed hold of me and it was only then, when I saw the contrast of her skin on mine, did I notice she hadn't colorized. She was still in black and white. She tightened her grip around my hand. "I don't want to dance," she said. She bit her lip. "Come here." She pulled me down to her with strength and ease. The ease I had expected. The strength I had not. She slunk into the folds of the recliner and disappeared. She pulled me down until my face was resting against the back cushion in a way that was quite uncomfortable. Even in a dream it didn't feel right. When I tried to pull away her legs shot out of the folds she had just disappeared into and wrapped around me, pulled me in close. "Take me," her voice whispered from somewhere behind cushions. She slid her feet along my back and they made their way up my shirt.

"Oh!" I yelled. "Anne! Your feet! Your feet are freezing!"

"Ignore that!" she said. "Take me! Take me now!"

"Maybe we should go to the bed!" I said, pushing away from her so I wouldn't be suffocated. "I think that would be more comfortable!" I looked around the trailer but couldn't seem to find any bed. It looked like there was only the kitchen to my left and the room we were in. There also didn't appear to be any doors in or out. 

"There's no time," she said. "Come into me!" She started pulling harder with her legs and soon I was buckling forward, folding inward, being sucked into that space between the recliner.

"No!" I said, struggling to free myself. "No!" I crumpled and heard a crunching sound and was falling, landed on a newspaper, was crumpled into a giant ball before I woke up with the sheets tangled around me, screaming into my pillow. 

I tried to tell me professor about what happened. About why I hadn't been able to do the reading. 

"You said the same thing about Plath and Dickinson," he said. "Why should I excuse you this time?" 

"This time was different," I said.

"How?" he said. "How in God's name is this time any different?" 

"Because this time when I woke up my sheets were dry."

My professor nodded, scribbled something into his notebook. I smiled and left the room. Though I wouldn't have smiled if I knew he was giving me an F. What a bastard.