On New Year's Day, I reached into a cabinet at my father-in-law's house to get a storage container. "Which one do you want me to use," I asked. He groped for the word "Pyrex" and momentarily, neither of us could recall it. I thought of "Corning ware," and peered into the cupboard for something resembling the smooth, heavy pans. As I did, I found myself thinking about a set of Corning ware that I had, decades ago; and about the person to whom I gave the entire set in a random act of generosity that I instantly regretted.
I can see his face but I cannot recall his name. Little Rock, 1987. My first husband and I lived and worked in a small, tight circle: our house, his theatre, the road between them. We knew no one except the folks in the Arkansas Opera Theatre company; we socialized only in our living room or one of theirs; we traveled nowhere and did little, and wondered when the other shoe would drop.
Chester had taken the job in Arkansas in an act of unbridled petulance after being overlooked for a promotion in Kansas City. I had reluctantly moved, quitting my prosecutor's position with a half-hearted mental shrug. We found ourselves in a town where we knew no one, did not speak or understand the dialect, and experienced two break-ins within months of our arrival, one while we slept and the criminals pounded at the back door. I should have resisted the move with much more vigor; signs screamed at me. When I called the Pulaski County Sheriff's office ahead of our move to find out how to register Chester's guns, the drawled reply after a moment of stunned silence had been, "Lady, we like guns here. You can have all of 'em you want, we don't care."
Chester had moved in January. We married in March, in the hills of Newton County above the town of Jasper. I did not quit my job and follow him until June. I took the Bar exam in Little Rock in July. A month later, the attorney general who had promised me a job got himself indicted and I found myself working as a Kelly girl while I waited for the Bar exam results and wondered what in God's name I had been thinking.
I stumbled from day to day. I strained to form friendships but the Company had its own cliques and rules that I did not comprehend. The prop mistress had moved from Oregon and expected to return there to her boyfriend, so she and I became the resident outsiders. Still, a natural wall stood between us: She was theatre; I was not. She drank tea with me but kept her distance. And so I lived a lonely life.
Except for one person: the man to whom I gave my Corning ware. And I cannot remember his name. I cannot recall how I knew him, whether he held a position in the theatre where Chester worked, or drifted into my path through a Kansas City connection. I can picture him: Thin, wiry, with a tilted head and a keen gaze. I see him in his kitchen, reaching under a cupboard, withdrawing a white pot and wistfully mentioning that he really liked cooking with Corning ware but only had this one piece.
"I've got a whole set," I blurted out. "I never use it." A seam opened in the universe of souls, outside of which I had been existing for thirty-two years. Within its folds stood this man, holding a lid in one hand and a pot in the other, his eyes on my face, his heart exposed. I stepped through the breach. "Would you like it?" The gap closed and I found myself, suddenly, standing on the right side of heaven.
My husband lost that job a few months later, when a new general manager swept through with her own ideas and her own people. We moved to Newton County and rented a house with a large basement shop, on the banks of the Buffalo River next to City Hall. Winter gripped the area. Chester went on tour as technical director for a theatre company the name of which I cannot recall. Our pipes froze the day after he left, and I called my father, heavy with fear, loneliness, and regret. I never saw my friend again. I talked to him, though. His mother lived in the town to which Chester and I had moved, and I handled her placement in a nursing home. I visited her, bringing her small gifts, her mail, and the lace handkerchiefs she favored. I was not with her when she died, nor when she learned of her son's death, a few months before hers, from an infection secondary to AIDS.
Here in Kansas City, almost three decades later, the day drifts toward noon. Patrick reads in the living room and the dog sleeps in her bed on the floor behind me. My husband of this life, this decade, this last third of my existence, went off a few moments ago in his tennis clothes. Mac sleeps the unfettered sleep of the young, two days before his return to college life in Memphis. My coffee has grown cold, and I am already thinking about the cup of French press that I will order, later, when I meet my friend Penny for coffee.
Saturday, January 4, 2014
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- 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.
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