Late

I leave the house while the world is still sleeping.

 

Blue dawn is just giving way to cool golden daylight. There’s an unseasonable chill in this midsummer air. Even the sheep are still huddled together, snuggling among the low tree branches on their hill. Arriving at the station, I see one other lonely soul waiting on the deserted platform. The orange LED timetable display is blank, dormant.

Shuttered houses snooze, while the first birds are swooping and cackling above our heads.

I wait for the tinny tell-tale vibration of the tracks that signal the train’s arrival. Birds cheep, cars rev into second gear, plastic trash bags rustle. No vibration, no train. The sky darkens, cool air licks up my spine and blows away my grogginess, giving way to worry.

 

I’ve been pacing, while the minute hand has sliced through half a revolution. A husky wheeze of a bus engine signals behind me. A rosy-faced motherly woman commands the immense steering wheel, and waves me over. Climbing aboard, rosy perfume mingles with the fatigued, stale odor of bus seats who’ve seen better days.

There’s always one passenger who’s got to make friends with the driver; today, it’s a woman who looks just like her, short and plump with hair to match. Her rough smoker’s laugh matches the wheeze of the bus engine, periodically firing off as we gallivant through the countryside.

Bus bounces through impossibly narrow country roads, past steep green hills of grapevines that make way for flat horizons of corn fields. Detours take us through isolated roads, until we reach the point of no return: a road barely large enough for a horse and buggy. A Herculean effort is necessary for our valiant driver to back on up out, and eventually we find the main road.

The passenger next to me is glued to his smartphone. I recognize him as a train employee, on his way to work like the rest of us. His globby fingers daintily poke at the touchscreen, and he’s still wearing yesterday’s 5-o’clock shadow. I keep sneaking glances at him, just another guy on the Saturday morning bus. He seems so much smaller than the man whose gaze I avoid while he suspiciously scrutinizes my train pass.

 

The bus finally hauls its tired mass into the station. I left home nearly 2 hours ago. My legs are a blur, propelling me through the familiar streets rendered foreign in Saturday morning light.

The streets are dingier in the gray light. I pass by a man, roughened and beaten down by life, shuffling stiffly along, hollow mouth agape, framed by a dirty beard and long-neglected hair. The sight of him inspires disgust, then hot shame.

Past the post office, whose sidewalk reeks permanently of urine, sprinkled with crumbles of doubtful origin… Are there THAT many large dogs left to freely defecate on this same sidewalk? Doubtful.

A man strolls along, engrossed in the glow of his smartphone, which emanates suspiciously pornographic sounds.

Just before arriving at work, I catch a whiff of shair. Why is that rank-ass smell following me today?

Rip the door open at work, and there’s nobody but my coworker chirping, “Good morning! Your student called and said she’s gonna be late for class…”

I crouch into a squat and collapse into laughter. Sweet relief mixes with exhaustion and sudden buoyancy. Everything’s okay, and I can finally take a moment to laugh at the thoroughly bizarre start to my day.

Like Them

Just me and F, cruising down the highway. Car full of music, snacks, and overnight bags; my socked feet rest on the dashboard.

I’m spying on the families in neighboring cars, making fun of them all.

Identical families in identical vehicles running off to identical rental properties to have identical vacations. Dads with polo shirts and reflective sunglasses driving the family vehicle, while Mom rides shotgun, staring hypnotically ahead at the infinite road stripes. Uninterested kids melting from boredom in the backseat. An occasional disgruntled mother-in-law is sandwiched between her mouthbreathing grandkids in the backseat, boring a hole into the back of her disappointment of a son-in-law’s skull with her iron gaze. A family’s worth of bicycles jimmy-rigged to the back of the vehicle, impeding their rear view.

Cutting off drivers on the highway to hurry to some banal destination, just to eat overpriced rubbery seafood and subpar waffles, and sit on a lackluster beach while your kids lament about missing their carbon-copy friends. Take a few washed-out, blurry photos that end up sitting in a shoebox to collect dust until after the funeral.

In other words, livin’ the middle class dream.

I wonder.

“Are we gonna be like that someday?”

His right hand moves from the wheel to my knee and tenderly squeezes, eyes straight ahead. “Maybe.” Suddenly, a clueless errant driver weaves into our lane. F’s face hardens as he grips the wheel and hits the brakes to avoid them, all while muttering uncouth things in French. (Roughly translated, it’d be something like: “These unfortunate gentlemen are ill-informed about the art of driving; ’tis an act better left to those more capable of doing it.”)

I make a silly face at the driver as we pass them by, and I burst into laughter at their confused expression.

No, we’ll never be like them…

+

We arrive at Scampi, our friends’ home near the beach. When we pull up to the house, we’re greeted by Mama and Papa, holding bright-eyed Baby 3. Babies 1 and 2 run outside to greet us, in a dust storm of blonde hair, blue eyes, joyous shrieks, and general excitement at receiving visitors. Papa is happy to see F, to increase the testosterone-to-estrogen ratio in the house, and Mama is happy to chitchat with me in English. Fresh beverages fizz and glasses clink to herald our arrival. We catch up with our friends while Baby 3 coos and giggles, and Babies 1 and 2 twitter about in a show-and-tell flurry of sparkly princess stickers and bold finger paintings.

Dinnertime approaches, and our tummies growl. The men stride into the backyard to start the fire for our barbecue.

I hold a hand to my empty stomach and look out at F.

Someday, we know there’ll be something more in here.

Destabilize

I step into a baby clothing store on a whim, looking for a gift for a friend who’s just given birth. The shop is cheerful and whimsical, with a fluffy pastel cotton-candy interior. I’m a bit disoriented in this foreign world of cutesy teeny-tiny fashion.

Smelling fresh carrion, two black-clad saleswomen croak “Hello” and descend upon me. They bare their teeth into something resembling a smile.

One of them, an older woman with deep-set eyes, indicates the rack for newborns. I peruse the adorable clothing, realizing a simple onesie costs 55 euros…

I have no time to fake a polite exit before the dark-eyed woman re-materializes in a cloud of heavy perfume and the oppressive stink of 30 years’ worth of cigarettes and red wine. There’s something sinister about this husky-voiced woman with stingy hair and George Washington’s wooden teeth, cooing at me with a saccharine voice.

“How old did you say the baby was?”

“Uhm, about 2 months.”

“So it’s NOT a new baby then!”

“I guess not…”

“Et, c’est dans quel pays?”

My eyes narrow in confusion, and my mouth is parted–I’m breathing discreetly through my mouth.

Quel pays? What country? What kind of trick question is this?

“Pardon?”

She repeats herself, cartoonishly enunciating “Quel PAYS?” Her gray teeth stand out against the spackle caked on her face; she looks like a 20’s vaudeville clown.

“France.”

“No, no, no…” Her colleague joins in behind, and they are now both braying at me, in tandem: “Pays, pays, pays…”  All that’s missing here is an undead barbershop quartet to complete this ghastly spectacle.

What did I do to gain entry to this hellish dog and pony show?

“WHERE?”

“The south of France…?”

“Oh, voilà! You know, we only ask because every region’s weather is different, every season is different, which you must keep in mind when shopping…” Her smarmy response disgusts me, and their logic has me stumped.  I don’t belong here in this farce. I respond with logic that might speak to them:

“Well, this is a travelling baby. You know, the kind of baby that travels all over France with her parents, so any kind of clothing would be fine… At any rate, thanks very much for your help, have a great day!” I chirp and fly out of the store.

The air outside is heavy and oppressive, offering no relief from the burning that stings the back of my throat.  I feel foolish, destabilized, unsettled.  Despite their bizarrely condescending behavior, I still suspect the fault lies with me and my insufficient French.

It’s time to retreat home.  I’ll buy the gift another day.

Indulge

A wild strawberry plucked from a vine in the garden, savored as I pass through on my way to work.

A finger of amber rum in the afternoon out on my terrace, with my feet up on the table.

A midnight homemade kebab and fries, a decadent treat. We sing “cheers” as we toast our meaty, saucy sandwiches together, and dip crisp fresh fries into mayonnaise and ketchup. Sinfully, deviously improper. The naughtiness of a midnight pig-out session, once in a blue moon. Not good for the heart, but good for the soul.

The pleasure on our friends’ faces as they taste my cooking; it was well worth adding that extra pat of butter, for a luxurious creamy texture.

A warm bowl of my butternut squash soup on a brisk morning, dusted with a pinch of cumin, fleur de sel, snipped fresh chives. Finishing with a dollop of cream gives an unctuous touch to a hearty lunch, creating an appetizing presentation.

The finishing touch: a gesture for pure pleasure, a reward for being human. Celebrating the artful, deliberate stimulation of our innate sensory pleasures. Indulgence that makes life deliciously beautiful.

As for the resulting light padding that these transgressions produce in the thigh-booty-stomach tri-zone area: I’ll walk it off later.

Nightlight

Still night, heavy air. Windows open, shutters start to vibrate. A lightning storm hurtles in with rapid-fire bursts of daylight, bringing fat raindrops that smack the window frame, just missing their target.

Wide-eyed, I sit on the edge of the bed, stunned by the cacophony of light. Eyes dart east-west, chasing electric cat-tails.

 

Gargantuan bursts of lightning, shaped like the birch trees in the front yard of my childhood home. Jagged, spindly, white-on-black. I huddled under my mom’s handmade quilt while outside, the thunder cracked ferociously. One intense white blanket of light seared the sky, and made you afraid that it would rip itself open. The dread of the rumbling, hellish roar that was to follow. Like a cat’s hiss, a sudden electric scream that shook my bed and rattled my core.

 

But now, the volume’s been turned down. Frenzied white-gray bursts, halos of diffused light dance for me and only me.

This is the deepest part of night, where there is no time. It is eternal, pure and perfect.

Like the timid animal I am, I lay back in bed next to F, stunned into stillness. Our room is a frozen vacuum, illuminated by relentless, pulsing full light. This rhythm lulls me to sleep.

Transfer

Energy, swirling and bubbling, slishing and sloshing, through our bodies. We touch something, which sends a reverberation that radiates outward, to continue its neverending run.

 

Tense energy, swirling, sloshing, through my body. My words touch everyone around me: cold, negative. Eyes and bodies shift, as does something inside me. My inner discomfort has overflowed, and I’ve transferred it to those around me.

Fear, tension, nerves, stress. There’s always something.

Life has showed me that there will always be something. Swirling inside my brain, there will always be some dark shadow that threatens to stands between me and my entourage. I can’t accept that.

I sit down to write. Difficult and uncomfortable at first, it soon feels like I’m scratching a deep internal itch. A soul itch. (Sitch?) The sloshing, watery shadow starts to find equilibrium. Give it some time to flow through my fingertips and transfer onto the screen, in a controlled release of creative energy.

 

A reminder that I shouldn’t stay away for too long.

 

abstract discomfort

abstract discomfort