Saturday, October 10, 2015

Saturday Musings(tm), 10 October 2015

Good morning,

In a living room just west of Main, in a home on our historic preservation registry, two musicians traded songs last evening.  One hailed from Chanute, Kansas; the other from down in Springfield.  I let their music roll past me, let the deft picking and the light strumming caress me but not linger.

One of them introduced a song by mentioning a small town with a store advertising sandwiches, beer, and bait.  His words caught my mind and sent me careening back in time.  I leaned against the tall back of the wooden chair, rested my hand against the grey soft fabric of my sweater, and remembered.

I squirm on the thinly padded, unrelenting metal of the trolley car seat.  My eyes close; I let the rhythm of the trundling train rock me.  We're above ground, now; but somewhere near Copley Square we'll go underground.  My unfocused eyes face the window but the images on the other side of the glass make no impression on me.  Piles of dirty snow battle with pedestrians on Commonwealth Avenue; the cars of morning rush hour nudge each other forward, downtown; and the opposite way, to Boston College perhaps, or maybe home, eagerly, after the graveyard shift.  

The massive line of ancient train cars screeches to a stop, somewhere, not yet underground, but I'm not sure where.  I press my face against glass tinged with the Massachusetts winter.  I wonder why I've come so far from home, just to languish in this wicked lonely place, this January of snow.

I see a sign on the far side of the roadway, spanning the top of a store which bustles with morning commuters.  The sign broadcasts the store's offerings:  NEWSPAPERS MILK FRIENDS DRUGS GIFTS ETERNAL LIFE. No punctuation.  Just a string of words.  I turn away.  The train moves forward and then, down below the surface, flickering lights signalling that we've engaged the underground.  Passengers begin to collect themselves to disembark as we journey to our last stop.

I see that sign every day.  I edit it in my head.  I add verbs; I make paragraphs; I write a poem.  When I come above the subway station at the stop for my dreary office job, I sit on a stool at the Mug n Muffin, writing haiku about finding friends while reading the newspaper, standing in the aisles of that store.  I imagine touching the shelves of candles, candy, and cigarettes.  I pretend that I've been invited to a party and stop at that store to buy a hostess gift.  What would I get her, this Boston lady who simply had to have me complete her dinner table in her elegant home on Beacon Hill?  Something fragile, something edible; a bottle of wine.  All available at the store which I see from my window as I make the commute from 27 South Street down the B branch of the Green Line towards what I did not want to do but which seems to be my destiny. Or at least, my fate.

One Saturday, I take the trolley to Copley Square and wander off Comm Avenue.  I stumble on a small string of stores with kitsch names and stylized window-dressings.  One bears the announcement, i natural, in large lower-case letters like an e e cummings title.  I push its door inward and step into a fog of fragrance.

The woman coming towards me clearly has her feet firmly planted in the sixties.  Her dress flows further than any dress I have ever seen except at a wedding; and her hair streams in long golden curls down her back.  I stop in the middle of the showroom and let her come to me.  

She does not speak but places one hand beneath my chin.  "Oh you are so young," she says.  I consider that she speaks more rightly than she knows but do not comment.  "Your skin needs these products!"  She cradles my elbow in the crook of her arm and draws me to the counter. 

She coaxes me to a chair and takes a series of bottles from beneath a glass counter.  A lid lifted; the odor of almonds; the scent of sea.  Cucumber scrub; flower petal lotion; citrus cleanser.  All the while she coos and flatters, quietly though, not too overwhelming, seemingly sincere.  I know I am being boondoggled but the cold of a Boston winter far from family sneers at me and this woman, this holdover hippie chick -- she stands between me and the icy silence of this frightening new world.

I leave with a little bag filled with the products which will keep me looking twenty-two, for which I've paid nearly a week's wages.  Before taxes.  I'm slightly ill when I board the trolley back to Brighton.

In the apartment which I share with Melanie and Marian, I stow the meager collection of skin-care products in my uncle John's old yellow suitcase which serves as my dresser.  It stands on a wooden chair inside the closet.  Another wooden chair holds a lamp and my journal, next to the bed.  I lie down, fully clothed.  I curl under the quilt that Mom Ulz made from tailor's squares and close my eyes.  

NEWSPAPERS MILK FRIENDS DRUGS GIFTS ETERNAL LIFE. . .I fall asleep reciting this mantra over and over, in the cold Massachusetts winter, in a room with no heat, not two months after finishing college.  No one disturbs me.  I sleep until Sunday and wake to an empty apartment and a note from my roommates who have gone to brunch.  "We tried to wake you," they had scribbled.  I'm skeptical but I make coffee and eat a cup of yogurt, watching the snow fall, wondering why the hell I came here.  

That afternoon, I take the trolley downtown and have my hair cut short, razored, shorter than Liza Minelli's famous style, shorter than a man's in the back with an upsweep of bangs that I had her paint blonde.  As I watch the winding locks of my natural auburn fall to the floor of the salon, I close my eyes and breathe the lingering fragrance of cucumber on my face.  It is a smell which I will never again be able to bear.

Jessica and Addao have already left for their camping trip.  The Holmes house fell silent as soon as we had the bundles of food, sleeping bags, and pillow loaded into the back of the Prius.  Now I have a day of possibility.  Laundry stares at me from two baskets in the bedroom; the winter sweaters still peak from their plastic bins.  I've had a half cup of coffee.  The dog is outside but she has not been fed, nor have I eaten breakfast.  But I sit at the secretary, feeling again the sway of the subway car, the frigid glass against my skin, the tightness of my muscles as I learn to pull myself inward during the crowded commute.  The stores flash past with their boasting lures:  NEWSPAPERS MILK FRIENDS DRUGS GIFTS ETERNAL LIFE. . .and I wonder, still, what the hell I'm doing here.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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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.