As we walked slowly through the Forum the Coliseum receding into the late afternoon, the Virgins stood patiently as befits a priestess trained to avoid the stares of passing men, even tourists such as we were, the columns staring down reminding us of our youth
despite the birthdays that we celebrated with the joy of togetherness, and the nagging knowledge that we were another year closer to that moment we refuse to acknowledge, aware always of its growing proximity.
We stare back at the Coliseum, as the sun slides behind its walls, and as the vendors selling all manner of items the buyer will regret in mid-flight home pack up for the day, I imagine Caesar pausing in thought then, sneering, turning his thumb down.
She is anything but little, huge wouldn’t be a gross overstatement. And I suppose you could call a overstuffed brocade cushion a tuffet if you stumbled here out of the Nineteenth century. And just for the record, she was munching on a well-aged brie and sucking down a Courvoisier-laced Greek yogurt smoothie. Oh, yes, did I mentioned she had been twice married to older men, one dead with two months of the wedding, the other divorced when his heart refused to give out on her schedule. So, Miss Muffet, I don’t think so. I didn’t sit down beside her, she plopped down on the edge of an intricate web I’d been working on for weeks. I barely got out before I was six microns under. So, at best she sat down next to me. And she left once she’d stuffed her face full of cheese, downed her smoothie, and left both her wrapper and cup on the ground for someone else to pick up, she pranced away, never even noticing me. And there, as Paul Harvey used to say, you have the rest of the story.
It is hard, looking back, to recall just how many hours I spent searching with a fair amount of diligence for just the right song to express my love. Most often I would find it, but only after that love had been replaced by another, demanding a new song — you cannot use the same song for two different loves, that crosses well over into tacky. I have to admit I’ve given up totally on that quest, even as the number of available songs has grown exponentially, or so the various streaming services suggest. I have only a single lover now, have for twenty years, and as her hearing has slipped away it is her lips that read mine, and that is all the song we need.
It would help, she said, if you would stop imagining your life as a barge moving slowly down the Mississippi River, one in an endless procession, following like so many lemmings looking without hope of finding a cliff. Yes, she adds, from time to time one may break free, it happens but you have to admit that is usually a disaster requiring a significant clean up, not to mention countless hours of hand-wringing and questions as to just how something so untoward could have happened. And, she concluded, it just so happens that I am sick and tired of dragging you along on my path to the Gulf.
I mean, seriously, did anyone really think that the Spratt marriage would ultimately last? Sure, the first couple of years were imagined bliss. And sure, their dietary desires did help them avoid almost all waste. But that big a difference, even if only seemingly in eating habits, foretells differences in other areas of life. He was a neatnik, she not so much. He didn’t mind, originally picking up after her, but after a dozen years, let’s face it, it got old. And she was tired of his comments about her diet. Sure, she had put on a few pounds of late, but that was part of aging. And really, she didn’t look that bad, not old and shrunken like he did. People in glass houses and all of that. And she was on the damned Keto diet, so at least she was trying. She knew it could not go on, so she reached out to an attorney. And it was the attorneys who picked their carcasses clean.
She walks slowly, the streets she once knew well, so much changed by time and memory released into the fog. It is hard going back when back is no longer there, where the store you owned, a place where you spent countless hours is now a sandwich shop, and so many others gone altogether for modern brick, concrete and glass. Still there is a T-shirt which she will wear as a badge of what was, a play she will never forget, as I remember the park in Salt Lake City were mescaline and blotter acid made the maples float above the ground and we sat in the summer rain and imagined golden butterflies but that too is gone as are all of the coconuts that once filled this grove.
She says you should not put all of your eggs in one basket. I remind her that I’m not terribly fond of eggs, and only rarely have more than one, and in any event, I keep them in the refrigerator to avoid spoilage. She says, so why is it we have no TV, no phone, no Internet, tell me that, wiseguy. I steer away from eggs and baskets and simply respond, because we have yet again been stranded on that barren, fruitless island known to all, hated by them, as Comcast. We both shrug our shoulders in resignation to our fate.
For years all I wanted was a working familial cloaking device. The kind the Romulans had in the early days of Star Fleet. It was easy to feel overwhelmed amid them, teaming together for holidays, reunions. I never could, I never did disappear though she felt my sometime silence oppressive. Now that I am part of that admixture, I have found the device and cannot for the life of me figure out how to turn it off in the presence of my own too small and shrinking family.
She carefully hangs her life
on the tautly stretched line
across her small back yard.
A sun faded floral housedress
a pair of bib overalls
knees worn white on
the kitchen linoleum,
cracked and dingy.
She waits patiently
for Humphrey Bogart to arrive
and carry her up
the river of her memory.
The chicken threatens
to burn in the cramped oven
and she is again without napkins.
He will be home soon
his six pack chilling
in the old Kelvinator
and she feels the slap
on her bruised cheek
as she fluffs her pillow
where she will soon hide
her purpled face.
Recently appeared in Aurora, Down in the Dirt Vol. 167 (2020)
The Good news about rom-coms is that Hollywood (and occasionally Paris, Lisbon and Madrid, but never Berlin) crank them out endlessly, and each contains that grain or two of truth, like salt rubbed in the wound of a failed first marriage, and the balm of the discovery of true and abiding love. The small pail of rom-com truths is easily carried, sometimes off a too strong wind, but it is never enough to build a dune to hold back the waves of emotion that attend the most fragile and passionate of all human relationships. Yet we sit, smile, and watch hoping that this one’s grain is the one that tips the scale ever so slowly in our favor.