Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Spirit (2008)

These two are now teammates. I love the NBA.

It's Tuesday night. I'm tired and the long Thanksgiving weekend is coming up. I know that I need it and I'm sure most of you (who?) do too. I hope you all enjoy it and listen to plenty of Beach House. I'm listening to "Heart of Chambers" right now from Devotion in preparation of my big Beach House post after the holiday, once I reclaim an iPod touch after my apartment was robbed a few weeks ago.

Anyway, I was doing some revision work and I thought that I should post some more of "From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt." I think you will all really like it when its done.

Here is tonight's installment. Have a good holiday.

James

I’m kissing Eve and everything smells like stale beer but tastes like wintergreen gum. It’s her lip balm. I open my eyes and see hers. We’re up against the little banister and counter by the door. Her small eyes. Chinese eyes I called them when we first met. If the thing in her stomach is a girl will she…

This place is cramped – the people by the door moving in and out with smoke and the smell of moist night – and I can hear the sounds of the hunting game behind me: the virtual deer and antelope noises. One of the new digital online jukeboxes is playing “Don’t Stop Believing” in the corner – an old terrible fan favorite. The overproduced piano, the high vocals, but I don’t really know anything about music. All I know is that this Brooklyn beer is heavy in my stomach and would leave my mouth tasting completely hoppy if it weren’t for the wintergreen residue on my lips.

“I still love this place,” Eve says. “I loved it when I first came home with you.”

“A town cornerstone.”

“Was this Ben’s favorite?”

“I’m not so sure. He and Uncle Connor did come here a lot.”

I see Liza and Maggie playing darts in front of us. They are both really bad. Maggie lines up on the one floorboard that moves perpendicular to the rest in order to mark the dart line. She aims and her right leg lifts up as she tosses. The dart hits the wall beneath the board and falls to the floor. She throws again. This dart sticks in the cork behind the boards. Third time is a charm and she hits the outer level of eighteen. She strides up to the dry erase board and makes a slash next to her side of the number. On top of her column her name has a frowny face above it while Liza’s has a smiley face.

“Nice shooting,” I say.

She grins back.

“Are you drunk?”

“It would take a few more than that.” She pulls the darts out of the board and hands them to Liza. Liza puts down her Budweiser on the ledge next to Eve. Maggie walks past her and as they pass each other something about the flash of the two different hues of their hair makes my stomach turn. I don’t know what the feeling is: nervousness, earnestness, what? I can only think of dad and Uncle Connor and how they must’ve looked years ago with their long wavy hair sitting at one of those window tables drunk. Now will Uncle Connor even show up tomorrow? What about dad? I can see him stumbling over the casket in the church and spilling whiskey on mom’s body. This is no folktale – she’s not coming back. Will Uncle Connor, though? Brothers. I see auburn and blonde. Sisters.

Maggie elbows my side. The way I used to sneak up on her and prod her sides with my hands, the younger brother picking on the older sister – she hated that.

“You see Jane over there?”

“No, I didn’t. She’s here?” I saw her on the way in. I can see her now. She has the same sort of round face that she always did. Still has the same curves too, bigger breasts than Eve. Eve doesn’t know.

“Who’s Jane?”

“Ah, just this girl we used to go to school with.”

“I think I saw Dan Christian over there too. Those Christian Brothers. You and Danny were always so close.”

It was behind the junior high where Gertz and Cicero beat him up. Tom was riding on his bike. I chased him away, pushed him onto the cement. It must’ve been hot because that day was scorching and I could feel it in the old white Chucks I was wearing then. Dan had fucked Gertz’s girl. I didn’t want to push Tom, but he was there at the wrong time. I take a long drink of my Brooklyn. Thick, heavy and cold. Does the dirt feel that way?

“Didn’t see him either.”

“Well he’s over by the bar too.”

“I should go over and say hello. I actually just saw Arielle Gregors slip in the back door. I’ll be right back, Eve.”

“Shouldn’t I come?”

“Nah, you’ll be bored,” I say. “I need to do it to be polite.” I pause. The timing feels awkward to me. There’s an Elton John song on the jukebox - he’s wailing about something. “My mom knows their moms, you know?”

“Get me another drink?” She rubs my elbow. Gin and tonic with lime.

“You got it.”

I start walking and can hear Maggie behind me.

“Our James was the popular sibling in high school. You knew that right Eve?”

“Well, I think so,” I hear Eve. And she says it in that sweet way she has of honestly trying to answer a stupid or sarcastic question like Maggie’s. She just wants to defend me.

I walk over to the bar. There’s a Mets game on one TV and a Yankees game on the other. The Mets are losing 2-1 to the Marlins in the sixth, while the Yanks are tied at two with the Twins in the third. There are Christmas lights up, draped in and around the liquor bottles on the shelf and the behind bar mirror. I can see myself, my face looks thin, my cheek bones sticking out. I fix my hair and hold up my bottle. Mike knows us. He gets me a beer.

“Buy back,” he mouths. The buy is a little elongated and the back is short. The way any good Long Islander would say it. I grab the beer by the neck and lean into the bar. He’s a nice guy – he’s been working behind the counter for awhile; he and his brother Tony. Their dad owned the bar. Mike’s got a stubbly beard - wearing a grey sweatshirt - and he’s slightly heavy. I lean and expect to be seen and before I know it, I feel a light hand on my shoulder. I turn my head back and it’s Arielle. She’s still pretty as hell with shiny black hair and those eyes that are big and brownish – hazel. Her eyes are big but not too big.

“Well, its one of the famous Gregors girls.”

She laughs. “You sound like an ass.”

“You know I was always good at that.”

She gives me a hug and all of a sudden I feel the warmth of a good drunk. The kind I used to get in college when I knew a good night was coming. When the feeling hits and the voices around you swell and seem important maybe more important than they really are and the lighting seems like it is already part of your halycon memories yet still painfully alive and present. That’s dangerous the way I can recognize it. It’s probably the way dad…

“So, did you see Jane and Danny over there?”

“No, I hadn’t seen them.”

“You should come over and say hi.” Her voice lowers. “Jane told me about your mom. James, I’m really really sorry. She was the sweetest woman. You know how we all liked coming over to your house.”

She’s touching my shoulder and her finger grazes my neck. I felt a quick small rush of goosebumps. It has to be hormone impulse.

“Yeah,” I sigh. “Its tough. I’m going to miss her.”

“It was sudden, huh? I'm sorry”

“Well my dad saw it coming. He tried to diagnose it. He thought it was a form of cancer and that she’d have longer. But I don’t know.”

Dad did see it coming. He tried to heal her. I don’t know the depths of the work he did, what they went through in the house during the past four months. I didn’t know it would happen like this. Liza must have some kind of idea. Dad on the phone in the summer. He knew that Uncle Connor could help him if he could only bother to call him up. They were brothers and it was a shame that that one disagreement could break them apart. But disagreeing over a death, especially in their profession will lead to life long silences and feuds – drinking problems. Lucky for dad he had his already in young age.

“That’s rough.” She hugs me again.

“Thanks.”

“She always did make the best brownies. It seemed like she’d always happen to be baking when we’d be over.”

“She liked to make it seem that way. That’s something she was good at.”

“Huh?”

“Appearances.”

“Oh.” She’s quiet. I know she’s uneasy at the situation. Does she have any delicacy or tact or is she just simply beautiful? Do I have tact?

Mom is in the kitchen except that the kitchen is separated from the rest of the house. It’s all black beyond the borders. There is no den and there is no side hallway to the garage. It seems like we are on a TV set somewhere in space. The kitchen smells sweet and like chocolate. I don’t smell any of the savory roasting meats that make my stomach growl. She’s in front of the oven wearing a long yellow dress. She turns around and the oven is open and red. She’s holding a metal cooking sheet.

“James,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“It’s OK, mom. I didn’t know I would be late.”

“I made brownies.”

I laugh. “Mom you didn’t have to.”

She bows her head and I notice that she’s wearing the apron with the food groups on it. The one I used to wear when she helped me make those Chinese dinners I tried to make for everyone or on Christmas when I’d try to make the pork loin.

“Yes, I did.”

“What do you mean?”

“Did your wife like my apron.”

“I think so, mom.”

She pulls out a cake knife and cuts into the pan. Steam rises up from the cuts she makes in the hot brownies. It smells like I’m ten.

“Everything goes on, James.”

“What do you mean?”

“Light, colors, sound. It comes from all different places.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Have a brownie”

And I take a bite. The kitchen fills with yellows and whites. The taste in my mouth is rich and it is hard work chewing through the brownies and their entire flavor. Now there are thick whisps of steam and swirling around my mother the kitchen is filling and moving away from me.

“Only The Good Die Young” is on the jukebox now. Who would’ve thought? I take a drink and look over at Eve talking to Maggie. She’s looking at me, she must’ve been for a little bit. I hold my finger up and roll my eyes to pretend like I’m bored. But I’m not bored, it feels good to be recognized and remembered. I can remember my old excitements. Now I’m looking at Dan Christian. I never hit him, but I never really apologized anyway.

“I’m sorry about what happened between you and Gertz, Dan,” I say to him.

He frowns and takes a drink of his pint. “I never held it against you, O’Donnell. Just that dumb polock.”

I take a drink too. It’ll be like a silent agreement, even though I don’t agree. But everything else seems about right – the voices, the accents, the music, and the taste.

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