Friday, February 04, 2005

Oh beautious day (ignore spelling!) I have begun to write fiction again. The dry spell is over. This is just a will understand that it is raw, and therefore forgive me (excerpt pasted below).

Wierd fact of the day: I, like poet/essayist/novelist Sylvia Plath, whose age of death I am currently at (though planning to stay alive, I assure you), also had sinusitus, like my doctor just pronounced is the likely medical label for what ails my right sinus. It's good to have ailments that famous writers had.

Five interesting facts about me: (choice of the word "interesting" up for discussion)

--I have never broken a bone in my body.
--I have a sibling exactly half my age.
--I cannot ski.
--I have been a radio host for almost two years!?
--I can tuck my right leg completely behind my head.

"Intersection" (to be continued)... (A short story)

What would it be like, Dana wondered, while fixing her hair in the mirror, not to brush her teeth just then? To be dressed for an elegant party, but have the secret fuzz on her teeth across which she could run her tongue as she rapped with Ben’s sisters. What if a slight aura of bad breath seeped out inches ahead of her; like the breath of Ben’s father who ignored a history of emphysema to enjoy nicotine’s easily-imparted gifts.

Ben was already dressed. She could hear him folding tinfoil over the dishes she’d made; steamed asparagus spears slathered in mustard sauce, mashed sweet potatoes and the butternut squash pie.

She became fixated on the thought of all those foods creating a thin veneer on her teeth; a part of every dish undigested, saved. The crudity of it gave her a perverse thrill, but as she applied hair spray and ran her tongue across her teeth, she put toothpaste on her toothbrush before she could give in to the strange impulse. It was such a simple act. So simple, but the act of not following through on it felt sacreligious.

“Dane, I need your help out here,” Ben called out. Dana tucked her lipstick into her jacket pocket; she would apply it in the car.

Ben wore the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired tie she’d bought him and this made her feel proud, as if he was showing off her good taste to his family, who prided themselves on their good taste. In fact, it was this feature that had left her self-conscious for the seven years they’d been together. A tiny, bright stain-on-the-underpants kind of self-conscious; perhaps no one on the outside could tell, but it distracted her just enough to feel as though they thought Ben had settled for her—a social worker from a lower class background.

Ben’s hair had just begun to gray at the temples. Dana wasn’t sure when, precisely, in the last month she’d noticed the waxy, gray hairs, but there they were now, as obvious as if they’d been professionally highlighted. It leant a strangely stern appearance to his otherwise boyish face. He was only forty, though, so Dana pretended not to notice them and, if it bothered him, he kept it to himself.

“Hey, you look nice in that,” he said, stopping to admire her in the ‘naughty black cocktail dress’ she’d bought just for this occasion.

“Well thanks for sounding surprised,” she said, grabbing the pie from his hands. “Don’t tip that, it’ll leak out all its juices.”

“My testy sweetheart,” he teased, relinquishing the pie to her. He held the bag with the other dishes in it and in his other hand, a bag stuffed with Christmas presents. “It’s times like this I’m glad we have no kids,” he said, trying to wrangle his keys into his hands, which were already too full.

She tried not to feel stung by that statement as she handed him the keys he couldn’t negotiate between packages. It had been her decision not to have kids because they had steady careers and were living their lives the way they wanted, unencumbered. Their child-laden friends lived in chaos. Besides, she was thirty-six now. Not exactly too old, but probably in her case. Her mother and grandmother had put their babymaking to rest by the age of twenty-five.

They loaded the car in two loads, the backseat of their new Prius crowded in a way that made Dana feel like such a conspicuous consumer. Ben drove, as always, and Dan wrapped an errant tendril of hair around her finger, her dangly crystal earrings making a happy jingling sound in her ears. Ben was, as always before a visit to his family, silent in a way that used to scare her. After the first few times in their early dating years, he’d finally told her about the mental tricks he had to play with himself in order to survive it; he’d only told her because she burst out sobbing. “It’s like psyching up for a big tennis match,” he’d explained.

Since her own family was scattered to the four winds, her father dead for that matter and her mother and brothers better in letter than person, she often had come close to asking Ben why he didn’t stop visiting his family altogether. Why, when each gathering left him overwhelmed and cranky for days afterward. But somehow, this seemed an insulting thing to ask of him, and so she went along.

They were not two blocks on their way when they passed a large, white Chevy stalled at an awkward angle in the middle of the busy “D” street intersection.

“Ben, stop. Go back. There’s an old man back there who needs help.”

Though Ben placed an enormous amount of importance—an undue amount, she thought—on being timely, he also had a similar bleeding heart for the weak and the old as she did. But she hadn’t taken into consideration the mental zone he was in.

“The social worker saves the day, eh?” He said, but he turned around at the next stoplight nonetheless and Dana forgave him, deciding it was just nerves.

They had to wait a long minute before the cars that were passing the stalled Chevy had swerved angrily around him.

“And on Christmas day,” she said softly. “Don’t people give a shit?”

Ben took her hand as they ran across the street, she, hobbling in heels. “They care about getting their family get togethers over with, and taking home their loot,” he answered.

The owner of the car was bent down on all fours, wearing ratty blue jeans and a faded plaid flannel shirt. His worn leather jacket was tossed carelessly across the hood of the car.

Not a single other passing car stopped.

“You okay? What’s the problem” Ben asked the man, who continued to peer up under the chassis of his car, and then back toward the street as if he were trying to urge a tool to magically appear. He didn’t seem to have heard Ben.

“Sir?” Dana called out. Finally he turned his head toward them, muttering to himself. He was missing one tooth on top and bottom of his mouth as if someone had knocked him in the mouth with a short, blunt instrument. His face looked sun-worn, lined and blotted with dark spots. By Dana’s estimate he was in his mid-seventies, or else late sixties and he had just led a hard life. He muttered some more and Ben attempted to translate.

“Your brakes?”

“Froze up,” they could make out.

“We should call you a tow-truck,” Dana said, after Ben attempted without luck to push the car forward out of the street.

“I’m getting my cell phone,” she said. “Give me your keys, honey,” she prodded her husband. Ben seemed irritated, as if he had entered the same strange capsule the man seemed to be lost inside. But he dug for the keys and tossed them at her. A passing car honked at her as she crossed. When she returned with the cell phone the man was talking, but rather to the air and Ben was looking perplexed.

“I’ve got his first name…Earnest. But I’m not sure he’s all…there,” Ben whispered.

She waved her cell phone at him and he took it and began to call roadside assistance. She approached Earnest. “We’re getting some help, Earnest. We’ll have someone come along and get you going again, okay? Okay, Earnest?”

He looked her straight in his eyes when she said his name a second time, but he seemed unwilling to acknowledge that they were helping him in any way. It gave her a chilled feeling and suddenly she wanted to be in Ben’s parents’ warm living room, because this moment made her feel more inadequate than the Fosters’ and their big house and prattled off achievements.
She looked over Earnest’s shoulder into his car for something that might be of use in the moment. There was nothing in his car at all except for a road atlas and one can of something on the passenger seat. She leaned closer. A can of Alpo wet dog food.

Another car had finally pulled over, and a fellow leaned out his window asking if they needed further help. Suddenly Dana felt protective, proprietary. This was their sad old man to help. He was under their good care! Ben was still on hold with Triple A. But even as she reassured the stranger in the truck that everything was fine, she saw a fire truck tooling up the road from the nearby station; someone must have called. Someone who didn’t want to stop and get their hands dirty, but who felt guilty nonetheless.

Earnest continued to mutter and drop down to gaze at the underbelly of his misbehaving vehicle. The fire truck parked on the nearest side street and a team of doughty men, tall, stocky and handsome—or maybe the moment simply made them so, Dana thought—stepped out and quickly began to take charge.

Ben called Triple A back to cancel the tow-truck and Dana felt self-conscious of her femaleness, a girl among boys, useless.

Dana leaned forward to help Earnest up from his knees and her lipstick fell with a plasticky thunk from her pocket onto the ground at his feet, splintering the top. She was as embarrassed as if a tampon or condom had fallen from her pocket, and so she left it there, then kicked it with her heel surreptitiously toward the gutter.

Within minutes the firemen had discovered that Earnest had simply run out of gas, and it was a sticky emergency brake that made his vehicle impossible to push. They had extra gas in their truck and they filled Earnest’s tank in a matter of minutes. There was an oddly beautiful choreography to the whole scene.

Ben had become aware of the time again. “We have to skeedaddle,” he said.
“Do you think he’s ok?” she asked, feeling an unspeakable sadness, like she had failed somehow.

“Sure he is. Those guys’ll get him home.”

But she couldn't really explain that she wasn’t happy with this outcome. She wanted to follow him home, make sure he got back into his house. Perhaps she could put on some tea for him, drape a blanket across his knees. Behn urged her with a frustrated grip on her arm back toward the car.

“Bye Earnest,” she called out again, but the old man didn’t hear her. One of the firemen waved in his stead.

They drove in silence for awhile until Ben, uncharacteristically asked her, “What are you thinking?”

She didn’t want to tell him.


“Oh come on. I never get away with that answer.”

“I just feel sad that he’s alone on Christmas.”

“Ah, your social worker instincts at work,” Ben said.

“Stop saying that. They’re just human instincts. It’s not that. This isn’t a family in decline anyway, or an abused wife. This is just a sad, lonely old man.”

Ben checked his watch and frowned. “How do you know he’s sad and lonely?”

She couldn’t say that her only proof was how sad and lonely she had felt in the old man’s presence. Particularly after seeing that lone can on his seat.

“Did you see the dog food?” she asked.


“One can of dog food. On his seat. Why only one can? Why not two or three? A week’s supply?”

“Oh, no, Dana. I know what you’re thinking…”

“Well, what if?”

“I highly doubt it,” he said.

“But he could…I don’t know, he ran out of gas, maybe he has no money. Maybe he stole it.”

“For the size of that can, he could have stolen something a lot more edible, I assure you,” Ben said, sounding irritated.

“Maybe he’s punishing himself,” she said, though she couldn’t say exactly how she meant this, and was glad when Ben’s obvious anxiety about nearing his parents’ house prevented him from answering.


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