Saturday, August 16, 2014

The crystal

Good afternoon:

I have had a lot of comments about my crystal from David Spencer, mentioned in today's Saturday Musings.

By chance, I am at the office where the crystal resides in a bowl. Here is a picture of the bowl of crystals.  It is the small one on the right, with brown/red veining and a little point.  The spark which I felt when I first touched it emanated from the point.

All of these crystals came from Arkansas.  The rock, also; and that might be a geode.  

Enjoy, all.


Saturday Musings, 16 August 2014

Good morning,

When I first awakened, hours ago, I couldn't tell if the light above the tress was the sun or the city.  Hunger rumbled in my stomach.  The scar tissue inside my artificial knee had knotted itself. I could hear the dog pacing in the kitchen.  If I strained, I could feel the cat waiting on the stoop.  I ignored it all and drifted back to sleep.  My mind takes over.

I'm in a car, heading from Jasper to Murray Valley in the mountains above the town.  Chester drives.  We round a bend and he pulls into a driveway.  We're stopping to see friends of his.  The husband, David, works as a carpenter in town and I think Chester hopes to get a little work.  

Their dwelling rises above the roadway and nestles against the curve of a hillside.  We skirt the vehicles and pallets between where we have parked and the steps to their front door.  David's wife waits in the doorway, a small brown wren of a woman.  She gestures; we pass her and enter the pleasantly cluttered home with its hanging plants and many bookcases, no doubt hand-made.  Their shelves gleam; their contours fit the angles of the room.  I touch the top of one, feel the heat of the hackberry, the smooth of the finish.  My fingers linger until I feel self-conscious and hastily remove them.

I've not caught the wife's name.  I smile to cover my embarrassment.  Dave bounds around the corner from the kitchen, tall, with wild crazy hair, fuzzy hair on his chin, and an endless smile.  He wears a white T-shirt, jeans, and hiking boots.  His wife takes his place by the stove and pours coffee from the pot sitting on a burner.  I haven't seen a stove-top coffee pot since my childhood.  It fascinates me.  

Chester and David have fallen into the kind of talk that interests those who work with wood.  I like wood but I find myself drifting away, looking at the bits and pieces that comprise their decor.  Stained glass, pottery, weavings and crystals.  Lots of crystals.  I see a wooden bowl of them in the middle of a table pushed to the back of the small living room, a table on which I feel sure they eat their meals, write letters, and plan their adventures.  I stand, gazing at the lovely pieces, until I cannot resist:  I reach into the bowl to touch one.  I do not realize that David and Chester have fallen silent to watch me.

As I touch the topmost crystal, a flash emits from it and sends a charge through my hand.  I stop but do not pull back.  My eyes raise and meet those of my host.  "That crystal seems to be yours," he says.  He moves, lifts it from the bowl, and places it in my hand.  He tells me that some times a bit of electricity from the earth remains in the crystals, lingering, until something releases the energy.  He holds my gaze and says, gently, that I had been the catalyst for that momentary spark.  I ask him if it will happen again.  He says, "It's not likely, these are very small crystals and they don't hold a lot of energy."  I close my fingers around the crystal and feel its jagged edges.  We remain silent, until his wife moves towards us with heavy mugs of steaming, fragrant coffee and we all sit, on hand-made chairs, around a hand-made table, in the home of a carpenter with a deep understanding of the forces of our world.

Several years later, after my marriage to Chester self-destructed, after I met a jazz musician with dreamy eyes and became pregnant, when the child who would become my son lay heavily in my slender body, I visited Jasper.  I sat in the home of a quilter, Mary Olson, talking about the Ohio Star pattern that I wanted for my son's quilt.  David's wife, whose name I still could not remember and only now speculate might have been Elizabeth, came visiting.  We embrace; she touched my belly, as women do when one carries a child, and she told me that she and David would gift me with a cedar chest in which to store my baby's things.  I tried to dissuade her, though without much conviction.  

She asked me if I still had the crystal which her husband had given me.  I told her that I did, although, in truth, it was mixed in an oriental bowl with several others and I was not sure that I could distinguish it from any other.  She nodded.  I felt as though I had failed some test, but she had too much kindness in her heart to tell me.

David made the chest, and Mary made the quilt.  I have them both, still, in my second floor room with all of its wood and oddities.  The bowl of crystals sits on a table in my office, but here at home, amid the other memories, I keep these two gifts safe to give Patrick when he has a child, or when he settles somewhere.  Until then, their presence comforts me.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Saturday Musings, 09 August 2014

Good morning,

The porch lured me, with its preening plants and the soft call of crickets.  Our stubborn boycat nibbles on food at the other end; I see he has a new battle scar but he wouldn't let me examine it.  Since he became an outdoor creature four years ago, he has gotten into some damaging scrapes but comes home nearly every morning to be fed.  I watch him settle onto the cool concrete for a morning nap.  He ignores my gaze.

Wakefulness claimed me at four this morning.  I rose, pace, pondered.  I don't  know which more troubled me: the spasming in my legs or the melancholy in my heart.  Eventually, I meditated myself back to quietude and slept until the sun kissed my eyelids through the open shade at half past six.

I found myself measuring the past this week, day by day, decade by decade, town by town, house by house.  I saw a picture of my first shared daughters, standing on either side of their father in a reunion for which I had long lobbied.  My spirit soared with gladness to see their image, the smile none had been sure would dawn with their coming together.  I studied in particular the younger daughter, Tshandra Michelle, now forty, with a beautiful daughter of her own.  I see her mother's face stamped there, though she carries her father's mark as well.  On the far left, little Gracie raises her arms and her face heavenward and I think:  Joy lives in that one.  I hope the child's joy springs back a generation and embraces her mother.

I close my eyes and see that mother's teenage face, spiked hair, black fingernail polish, defiant glare.  We're standing in the small lobby of the Springfield, Missouri airport and she's telling her father and me why her mother's sent her back to us.  Or why she believes her behavior got her shipped back to the wilds of Newton County, Arkansas.  We drive back to Jasper without talking much, with the radio playing, and Shelley -- as she was known then -- fuming.

We had had her for the prior summer, down in Little Rock, along with her cousin Sarah, she of the golden hair and the sunny disposition.  Her mother begged us until we agreed to tell her that she and her husband had separated.  The news had not set well with my stepdaughter.  She had been a toddler when her birthparents had divorced, and she barely knew her father.  Her stepfather had moved into the void left by Chester's parting.  Now she found herself living in Chester's home again, with his new wife again, and I feel certain, even now, nearly three decades later, that she dreaded the prospect.

She rummaged in her backpack and unearthed a plastic bag and handed it to me.  "Here," she said.  "I finished it."  I smoothed the wrinkles caused by a hasty hand and extracted the muslin still caught in the embroidery hoop.  "Live a little, Laugh a lot, Love enough".  A cross-stitch piece; I had bought it for her after much debate the prior summer in Little Rock.  I turned, I smiled, and I thought, for just one moment, that her steely countenance relaxed.

Back in Jasper, with the clean mountain air surrounding us, Chester settled her onto the sleeping room that we had made of the screened porch while I started cooking dinner.  I heard murmuring; her father's voice, then hers, rising, strident.  I quelled my apprehension and stirred the hollandaise, made the salad, set the table.  The three of us tendered small talk over the food, across the divide.  We didn't discuss what had happened back home; we didn't mention the differences we saw in her.

She stayed with us for just a handful of weeks, that time.  But in that month, I came to love her.  I didn't know if anything I did or said in that time reached her, but I got her under my skin and in my heart, that first shared daughter, and there she has stayed with her tender nature and her steely spine.

A couple of lifetimes later, Tshandra reached out to me on Facebook and we became steady correspondents.  At the same time, I started teaching a Writers' Workshop at the VALA Gallery, at which Chester had become a resident artist and general handyman.  He and I started a long, loosely choreographed dance number entitled How Can I Get My Daughters Back, with particular emphasis on Tshandra Michelle.  He led the dance but occasionally, I would send us into a spin.  His line:  "I Did My Best", juxtaposed against my chorus:  "She's Your Daughter, Chet, Just Apologize For Leaving Her".

Then their mother died and the dance accelerated, with the daughters out west now having their own places in our frenzied waltz.  Reclaiming Tshandra and Kimberly became an imperative.  The music rose to a crescendo now and again, with Chester banging on his drum and Tshandra trilling the gentle, elusive line of the flute above his bold bashing.  For my part, I turned the pages,  occasionally striking the triangle with its wand.

So here they were, in my Newsfeed on Facebook a few days ago:  One of three shared daughters who live in my heart, with her half-sister Angelica on her right, and her father and sister standing in the middle of the tableau.  My soul sang.  I studied the figure of Grace, Chester's granddaughter, Tshandra's daughter.  I saw that she carried no taint of two generations of angst which came before her making.  I saw the happiness on Tshandra's face, this brave young woman; and my heart, which has had its share of sorrow, felt  light and easy.  Remembering that picture now, I find I can let go of the melancholy, if only for a morning, because of  reunion in Colorado among people whom I will always love.

Here in Kansas City, the sun has fully risen but the air is still sweet.  The neighborhood has come to life and my coffee has grown cold.  Pablo, the boycat, has wandered off and workers on some nearby street have started a noisy project.  I rise, stretch, and move toward the house and another cup of coffee.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Saturday Musings, 02 August 2014

Good morning,

A vague ache in my right hip caused me to turn and clutch the wall as I descended from the cool of the bedroom this morning.  That brief twinge spun me backwards in time, to 1974, St. Louis, just blocks from St. Louis University.

I've just left my dorm room with a date, a West County boy who's slumming tonight, taking a North County girl out riding in his dusty Gremlin.  We pull away from the curb and I turn to him, gazing at his profile, my right hand reaching down for the seat belt wedged against the door.  It's dusk and the evening stretches ahead of us, a cool spring night with no expectation of rain.

I've not yet buckled the belt when I see his eyes briefly widen.  I have no other warning.  The car coming straight for us slams into my door and I am thrown sideways, pinned between the rough fabric of the seat and the Gremlin's door, on top of which, I later learn, is the left front wheel of an Oldsmobile, full-size.  I close my eyes; I do not breathe; I wait while the blare of someone's horn pierces the night soon followed by the urgent siren's wail.

My date falls back while the first responders assess the situation.  They ask me questions that I know seek to learn my level of awareness.  I tell them  my name, my age, the year, who is President.  I correctly identify the city.  They stump me with one final question:  "Do you know what  happened to you?"  I don't know if they mean, "Do I know there's a car parked on  my hip?" or "Do I know my luck has run out?"  I shake my head but the fire fighter seems to understand.  He squeezes my hand.  "We're going to get you out of this," he assures me.

That fire fighter's hand never leaves mine.  Hours pass; maybe minutes; new sounds replace the stilled siren.  Urgent voices, the slap of a box on pavement.  I see another uniformed body hovering behind my fireman, I can't tell who, I can't see what.  But I see medical supplies and understand that it must be someone from the ambulance.  A body crawls beside me while the fire fighter's large strong hand grips mine.  "We're going to get you out," he repeats.  He can't say it enough for me.  He seems to know that.

A gentle voice asks me if I can feel my toes.  I hold the gaze of the man who has made it his job to comfort me and nod.  "Can you move your legs at all," the voice inquires.  I shift.  "Not my right one," I admit.  I consider whether to tell them that I'm disabled but I have 18 years of experience with the impossibility of explanation, the impasse this raises.  I decide to wait and tell the emergency room personnel.  I don't want my rescue delayed while a huddle of EMTs tries to decide if my crippled legs pose an impediment to their work.

I hear the murmur of voices.  That strong hand has not released mine but the rest of them huddle to be part of the strategic assessment.  I try to focus; I gather they can't decide whether to move the Oldsmobile or how quickly to do so. They don't know what will happen when the pressure rises from my body.  I whisper; the firefighter leans to hear.  "Get it off me, get it off me, get it off me," I plead. He nods.  They've all heard.  They move towards the car.

I don't know then but I learn later:  they hoist it off with the cable of a tow truck. I feel the easing of the pressure on  my hip and tears rise in my eyes and flow down my checks, dropping on the two hands now holding mine.  I feel the sear of pain rush through my torso and realize what they had known:  Lifting the car has shifted me in ways that might be less bearable than the car's stabilizing weight.  But I can breathe again and that's what I wanted.

Someone climbs on top of the Gremlin's hood and peers into the cracked windshield.  I hear a guiding voice.  Someone else enters from the smashed back window and slides his hands between the blanketing door and my shoulders.  My fireman squeezes both my small hands, which he engulfs with his, the sleeves of his jacket falling down onto my thin arms.  "They're going to move the door," he says, gently.  "Look at me, look at me,  LOOK AT ME."  He holds my eyes with his; I see into the brown pools of his dark eyes which never waver or shift.  And suddenly the pain becomes unbearable and I cry out but that fireman never lets go of my hands, never breaks contact with my eyes, never lets me go.  I black out, briefly, and when I come back around he's still there.  Still there.

Forty years have gone by since that accident.  Sometimes I wonder what became of those first responders.  I'm nearing sixty now; they must be older, if they are still alive.   I don't know their names.  I've had worse things happen to me since that accident,  including being run down on Westport Road by an uninsured driver in a VW Cirocco, a blast to my left side which sent me skyward, flying above the adjacent row of two-story buildings, tumbling back down and smashing into the Cirocco's hood and then its windshield before sailing eighty-two feet forward to land on the street.  The first responders at the accident came to visit me in Menorah Hospital, amazed that not one drop of blood had been shed.  I told them about the Gremlin-Oldsmobile match of 1974, in which I had suffered, by some miracle, only a dislocated hip.  I told them about the fireman who held my hand.  They glanced at each other, a long, knowing glance.  "That sounds like an angel," one of them quietly remarked.  I smiled.  Indeed.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday Musings, 26 July 2014

Good morning,

The little box at the top of my tablet says that it is eighty degrees, and the box has turned from its customary blue to red.  I assume that warns me of more degrees to come, but at present, I feel the movement of the air as I sit on the deck, a cup of coffee to one side and the morning paper to the other.  I'm not much of an outdoor woman, but I do love the morning air on the porch here in Brookside.

My mind drifts back to another summer, another early morning.  Newton County, Arkansas, in the mountains above Jasper.  We've come for early coffee, my then-husband and I, to a compound owned by friends he has known since their hippie days.  He's at the kitchen table pontificating along with the homeowner, his quiet wife, and a couple of others who still nurse hangovers from their Friday evening.

I walk the grounds.  A long stretch of chain link fence surrounds the place where they have their breeding dogs, who live in sturdy houses built of hack berry and tar paper.  I see a couple of them snuffling at the far side of the fence, perhaps catching the lingering scent of a nocturnal visitor -- a deer or a little mountain cat.  I stand and let the sun warm my face, my arms.  I shift my thin legs to balance myself when the breeze rises.

A noise behind me causes me to startle.  I turn.  The window of the little guest house has been raised.  I see a face peering at me through the space; the French exchange student.  I wonder how she fares, at this place where she sleeps in a structure built for lazing about smoking dope, back when the landowner was twenty and lying around in a wooden dollhouse high on homegrown marijuana appealed to him.  A couple of decades ago; a couple of light years ago.  I wave to Tiphaine and turn to walk towards her, across the gravel driveway, into the yard of the compound and up the rise on which the guesthouse sits.

The tiny structure has electricity but no running water.  There's an outhouse nearby; or she can go into the main house to use the chemical toilet.  She emerges from the charming little building and greets me, in her flawless, accented English.  "Just one moment, please excuse," she says, and moves beyond me, headed for the outhouse.  I sit down in one of the two lawn chairs on the little terrace beside the guesthouse and wait for her to return.

She's eighteen, this French exchange student, and from Versailles.  I don't know what she expected when she came to Newton County, Arkansas. Perhaps a working farm; perhaps a village. What she found was a dying town with five hundred sixty-three residents (six hundred three on the water line) and this place, a dozen or so acres where drop-outs came to live communally in the sixties, to grow pot and escape adult responsibilities.  They had children; they partnered; the marriages splintered.  Only T.J. and Jeanne remained, with Jeanne being his second wife, not much older than the children of his first.  His children and their mother lived in other houses, across Thomas Creek.  One spent his days building a house while living in a mud-insulated school bus.  The extremes through which they went to avoid being on T.J.'s land puzzled me.

Tiphaine returns from her morning visit to the rough facilities, wiping her hands on a wet-nap which she tucks into the pocket of her capris.  I try to put sympathy in my smile as she sits in the second chair.  She's tall, maybe five-nine, with dark hair and a smattering of  freckles sprinkled across her nose and the oval of her face.  Her answering smile tells me little except that her parents have raised her well; she hides any chagrin at the way she's forced to live during her week at Thomas Creek.

"Good morning, Corinne," she says, softly, perhaps out of respect for anyone who might still be sleeping in the mainhouse.  I return her greeting.  I think back fourteen years, to being age eighteen.  I almost went to France as an exchange student; I wouldn't have expected to use an outhouse had I done so.

"How are you getting on, here, Tiphaine?"  I relax my body against the back of my chair, hoping she will see that she can reply honestly.  But she shifts her gaze to the trees beyond the dog kennels and acknowledges, with an expressionless tone, that T.J. and Jeanne are being very good to her.  We both know it's not an answer to my question; we both also know that she won't give me one.

I ask her another question, an easier one, about her family.  A radiance breaks across her countenance and she talks about her parents, the apartment on rue Albert Joly in Versailles, and the school which she attends.  I can see she misses them, something else we won't mention.  Her words wash over me, rising and falling in an unfamiliar but intriguing cadence.  As she warms to her topic, her English becomes less clear, and peppered with a fragment of French here and there.  I miss some of the details but the essence is clear:  Versailles is nothing like Jasper; it is a city; it is old; it is beautiful; and she is homesick.

Her voice stops, finally.  The sun has risen above the ridge.  The long, low house, squat against the hillside, emits noises, signalling that everyone now stirs and gathers for the morning meal.  Tiphaine and I linger, on the porch of the quaint little guesthouse where she has slept a night in which she dreamed of home.  She lets a small sob escape from between her tightly closed lips and I place a hand on her arm.  I'm homesick, too; for Kansas City; for my job as a prosecutor which I have left a bit hastily; for late-night music in Westport and the throngs on the sidewalk after last call.  I am not as many miles from home, but my home seems just as unreachable as hers, and I do, really, understand how she feels.

After a few minutes, Tiphaine rolls her shoulders and rises from her chair.  "I want a coffee, don't you, my dear Corinne?"  She strides ahead of me, with her long, strong legs and her swinging arms.  I follow.  The ghosts stay behind, to haunt us, perhaps tomorrow, in the sweet air of another Ozark mountain morning.

Nearly forty years later, I sit beneath a hazy sky and wonder what has become of Tiphaine.  She visited Chester and me one year; and me and my child a few years later, that time just as an adult, not an exchange student.  I took her to Kansas City and we ate at a French cafe.  She crumbled the tender pastry of a brioche and rolled her eyes at the pleasure of dipping its flakiness into her strong cream-tinged coffee.  We walked the cobbled hills of Eureka Springs and listened to jazz in the little bandstand there, where I had seen my son's father play just  a year before her summer visit.  She held my infant son and sang to him in French, sitting on a park bench, in Eureka Springs, such a long time ago.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday Musings, 19 July 2014

Good morning,

Another week stumbles to a close with me clinging to the spinning merry-go-round and trying to resist the urge to jump.  The world looks strange in circular succession: tree, car, house, building, yard, tree, car, house, building, yard -- over and over in a blurry pool.  Faces of people in the path of the whirling machine meld into a stream of color as I whirl past.  I see them over and over and over, each time measuring how long I have to blurt out some message before I rocket past them.  The vehicle which propels me becomes the only constant.

As a child, I lived near a public school on the playground of which were two merry-go-rounds, one big, one little.  The smaller one required the rider to stand and grip metal piping while someone pulled and sent the merry-go-round in orbit.  The ride, though made on one's feet for the most part, usually stayed serene.  Only with a tremendous  push and a series of smaller pulls, could the little merry-go-round build  much speed.

The larger vehicle had some sort of pumping pedal beneath each seat.  Strong legs and a little side assist could get it flying, and only the fact that smaller children could sit and hold a long bar rendered it even tenable for the likes of me.

My older brothers insisted on trying to get these two merry-go-rounds to fly.  Working together, they could get the little one to dizzying acceleration, never mind what they could do on the larger merry-go-round.  They made me stand on either one, made me through guilt and goading, and I invariably complied because my nature didn't allow me to refuse either brother.  Mark would coax me and Kevin would assure me that it would be fine, this time, that this time, I would not fall or get hurt.  Invariably, I scraped something, or bumped my head; inevitably, I ended up crying.

One hot June afternoon, in the mid-1960's, the big boys -- as my mother called them -- decided that I should stand in the middle of the flat, low disk of the smaller of the two merry-go-rounds and not hold onto anything.  The middle had the upright to which the various hand-holds were attached and the gear that allowed the whole thing to turn.  Standing there took no small amount of skill.  I crawled between the bars and positioned my feet  "You can't hold on, though," said Kevin.  I didn't know what the rules of the game were; I'm not sure they did either.  

They stationed themselves on either end of a diameter of which I occupied the frightening middle.  "Ready," one of them said and I felt my stomach lurch.  They started running, chasing each other it seemed, holding opposite handles and propelling the entire structure into orbit.  At the center, I stood, terrified, motionless, rigid, and they ran, and ran, and ran and the merry-go-round went faster and faster and faster and at the eye of the storm, a terrible feeling began to rise in my body until it escaped in an endless scream.

The boys fell back onto the ground.  I grabbed the piping and waited for the disk to slow.  The world passed me: building, ball field, panting brother, driveway, parking lot, panting brother, building, ball field.  .barely discernible, white blurs.  The merry-go-round lost momentum and I could identify what I passed: Mark, the school, the fence, Kevin, the asphalt, the street beyond the schoolyard.  At last, the merry-go-round stopped.  My brothers still lay in the dirt, one on either side of me, watching me.

I crawled out from the center of the merry-go-round, sliding through the grease and grime, tearing my shorts.  Holding onto the nearest  piece of pipe, I set one foot onto the ground, feeling my legs shudder, feeling the slight sway of my body.  I eased myself off the wooden platform and stood, still holding on, still steadying myself.

My brothers dragged themselves off the ground.  One of them came forward and brushed some dirt off the back of my shirt.  The other used a smear of spit to take some grease from my cheek.  "You okay?"  I couldn't hear which one of them asked.  I nodded.

"Let's go home," one of them suggested. I didn't know which one; it didn't matter.  We walked the two blocks down the hill to our house without saying anything more.  When my mother got home from work, we all ate dinner, and the big boys took my turn at the sink, one washing, one drying.  I felt my mother's eyes on me but I didn't say anything.  I hid the torn shorts under my mattress, where they stayed for a long time.  I never said anything, even after I realized that the shorts had been removed, probably when my mother took the sheets off to wash.  No one said anything.  No one needed to say anything.

The air coming in my dining room window here feels sweet and cool.  A few friends will be here for dinner this evening, and I have a lot to do to get ready.  The radio plays in the background, and on the table, a disturbing headline blares from the local newspaper.  The world still spins outside  my door.  Inside, though, everything is calm, quiet, and still.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saturday Musings, 12 July 2014

Good morning,

My hands hover over the keys and stray back to the coffee mug or the spoon in the cup of yogurt.   Something about summer saddens me and draws my mind to murkier pools.  My mother died in the summer, and my brother did as well.  People tend to leave me in the summer: lovers, and spouses, and children.  I glance in each mirror as I pass and wonder:  Maybe I'm not pretty enough in the summer?  Maybe the heat makes me cranky and forgetful, and I don't attend to the needs of those far and near whose lives I could enrich?  In cooler days I know that at least the summer deaths which I've experienced had nothing to do with any shortcomings of mine, but it's hard to keep hold of that when the heat index hits one hundred.

I place my glasses down on the table.  Once the room has blurred, it could be any room, any where.  It could be the library at St. Louis University, in the summer of 1974, and I could be 18 again and living in a summer sublet on Russell, just east of Grand.

It's just a room, and not big at that.  One side has French doors which lead into the hallway and don't securely lock.  Two sides flank the street and have windows.  The fourth wall consists of two large bookcases shoved against the archway which leads to the kitchen of this old house.  The owner, a lonely  widow with steel grey hair and a nervous air, has done her best to make something habitable out of what had been her dining room.  The student who normally lives here has gone home for the summer, and I've dragged my two suitcases full of clothing and my box of books down from the dorm room which I had inhabited for a semester to take her place.

The lady herself lives in what used to be the living room.  A handful of male students live in the upstairs, in the actual bedrooms.  They share the upstairs bathroom and the kitchen.  I use the bathroom on the first floor, and have to go through the landlady's space to get to it.  It's less than optimal and I use it only when absolutely necessary.  I take my shower there, then get out of the house as soon as possible, off to my summer job where the bathrooms have private stalls and no one listening.

At night, the landlady stands outside my bedroom door and hisses that she's going to lock the front, am I inside for the night?  I pretend I am asleep though I don't think I fool her.  This ritual repeats itself every night; every night she alerts me, in her cold, lonely voice; and every night I hold my breath and don't respond.  I never go anywhere.  She figures that out some time in June but still asks the question; and still gets my silent answer.

I have no summer friends.  My handful of college compatriots have all gone back to their East Coast homes.  The local kids live up north, in Jennings, near my mother's house where I won't go because we haven't yet resolved the anger which drove me to leave in September.  I know I could go home; I know she would welcome me.  But I need my misery; I pull it around me like an afghan in winter, and curl on my sublet bed, and re-read Henry James novels and weep.  I write bad poetry and wonder why nothing seems to be the way I imagined it.  There's no phone in my room, but if there were one, it would never ring.

One night, in early August, there is a sharp rap on one of the panes of my door.  I watch the curtains, which are on the outside, and think I see one of them twitch.  Whoever is there knows that I'm here, lying on my bed.  They probably know the precise depth of the pool of pity in which I have immersed myself.  There's no reason not to drag myself over to the door and respond to the knock but still I hesitate.  The rap repeats; the twitch follows.  "Can you come?" I hear, in the old lady's hoarse hiss.  I can't ignore that request; my breeding wins out and I rise.

She's standing in the hallway in a dark robe and delicate, embroidered slippers.  I think they must be Daniel Greens, and tell myself that I have a similar pair in my suitcase, never unpacked.  "I need your help," she says.  I look at her face, then.  It wears the mark of time, the erosion, the cleaving of its planes, the stamp of sorrow.  "Of course, of course," I tell her.  She turns and enters her own room, with its matching curtained doors, and stands in front of an open closet.  "Can you get that box down?"  She tightens her robe and closes her face.  The request pains her.

I look on the shelf.  It's a big box, and deep. It looks heavy from where I stand.  I glance down and see she has placed a black tapestry footstool in front of the closet.  I'm thin but the thing looks fragile and I'm a little hesitant to stand on it.  I glance back at the lady and she nods, tersely I think.  She trusts the stool.  So I set my right foot on it and hoist my weight behind that, settling my left foot and steadying myself on the door frame.

As I slide the box towards me I wonder -- just briefly -- why she didn't get one of the men upstairs to help her.  But there's not much time for speculation; the box is heavier than it looks and I need to concentrate to keep myself from staggering back against the old woman.  I get it down and set it where she tells me, on the bed, and draw a deep breath.  The lady moves me out of the way and opens the box.

It's full of pictures, letters, old receipts, and yellowed documents.  I'm forgotten as the lady scrambles in its depths, murmuring to herself.  I creep out, back to my room, back to my sad, pathetic state, and eventually, I fall asleep.

I'm awakened the next day by another sharp tap on the glass.  I'm groggy, but I pull on a robe and open the door.  It's my landlady.  "The tea is ready," she says.  She turns and shuffles into the kitchen.  As though I'm her daughter; or her sister; as though she's ever made tea for me.  As though she makes it for me every day and I just forgot, the once.  I follow her.

It's properly brewed tea; leaves in an earthen pot.  She stands with her back to me at the stove and she's cooking eggs by the smell of it.  She lays a plate for me and one for herself.  She places whole wheat toast on a little plate, beside a small bowl of preserves.  We eat in silence.  Afterwards, I wash the dishes while she sweeps the floor.  When we've finished, she stands in the doorway and says, "Will you put it back for me?"  And I do, carefully, standing on the old black footstool, with the lady watching me.

And then I go about my day.

My landlady never made breakfast for me again.  She continued hissing at me, every night, that she would be locking the front door.  "Good night," I would call.  She did not answer, but I could tell she heard.  The curtain would twitch, and I would see her fingers, with their arthritic knuckles, rise a little.  And then I'd hear the soft sound of her slippers on the hardwood floor, and the quiet click of her own French door.  I would smile, then I would sleep.  The summer passed this way, until its warm days waned, and the coolness of the fall began to creep into the city, and my summer sublet ended.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

The Missouri Mugwump

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.