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Posts Tagged ‘death’

For Simon Van Booy

       Despite his father’s misgivings, Charles had never developed apprehensions about his height or his abilities to achieve greatness because of it. At five feet four inches, or 165 cm, and 31 years of age, he published his first novel, married a six-foot-tall model, and got her pregnant. It was a boy, they told them.

He looked back at his classmates from high school, tall, sturdy and slightly dim by his own standards, who went to college on football scholarships, married at graduation to become divorced drunks (or drunk divorcees) today, and smiled a sorrowful smile. They were good guys, those boys turned men, but why did they have to put so much emphasis on appearances, as if they were girls brainwashed by “How to…” sex articles in Cosmo and Self? What happened to true aspirations, he wondered? Greatness didn’t depend on height – Napoleon must have known it, and so did Charles. That conviction utterly puzzled his father who could never get over his own meager height of 5’6”, and who divorced Charles’s mother at the insistence that she’d had an affair with a taller man. His mother despaired for a year, her innocence offended as much as her heart broken, and married a six-foot-two real estate agent just to spite her ex-husband. She said he was great in bed. Charles didn’t believe her.

No, he had no reservations about his height. He loved being short. He said it gave him a better perception on life, for his head was not far from Earth, which kept him grounded, confident, and on his toes.

Charles met Veronica at a reading. She sat in the first row and blocked everyone else’s view. He loved her insolence, for he could tell she didn’t have reservations about her awesome height the same way he didn’t have about his. When the last writer had left the podium, Charles asked the curator if she knew the lady.

“Veronica. Sharp as a nail, outrageous, too. Former model turned clown. Strange story.”

“Can you please introduce us?”

“Watch out what you wish for,” said the curator, a slim 40-year old in tight black pants and red V-neck T-shirt, cocking her head. “She eats men alive.”

“Sounds great.”

Charles said his name and kissed her hand, and she smiled an open, genuine smile, like Christmas tree lighting up in the dark, and they didn’t have to speak. He looked at her and she knew.  Charles still remembered that moment as the most profound of his life, as if he had entered a buzzing electric circuit and become part of it. She set him in motion, and he was grateful and happy, even now, when she was no longer around.

They loved walking in TriBeCa, dressed in Prada, Kawakubo or Sander, holding hands. Their first brunch at Bubbo’s, first dinner at Cercle Rouge. She always wore Roger Vivier shoes, even in a drizzle. Some people turned to look at them, the woman towering over a man, like a lighthouse over a small boat approaching the shore. Happy goose bumps ran down his back at those moments, for he knew he had found his marina. He’d get hard then.  Veronica would look down at Charles, nod appreciatively, and lean over to French-kiss him, for the added benefit of the onlookers. They could talk about anything: books, dogs, mobile apps, bondage, exotic travel, physics – never bored, always laughing.

Their City Hall marriage ceremony, attended by Charlie’s mother and her husband, and by Veronica’s best friend Elizabeth, with whom she’s had an affair for three years, lasted exactly three minutes. Veronica’s parents didn’t attend because they were dead. “A car crash. That’s how I have all the money,” she’d said once and never returned to the subject.

He admired her lanky legs draped in a red skirt, and her small breasts peaking at him through a sheer white top. She never wore a bra. She didn’t have to. The minister woman didn’t look at them once while mumbling the words from the podium. She did notice them at the end, after they said their “I do’s” and her face took a human expression for a moment, perhaps for the first time in months, that of delight and curiosity.  Charles raised himself on tiptoes, Veronica leaned forward, and he cupped her breasts for their first married kiss.

They soon discovered each other’s fantasies, and hardly a night went without play. Sometimes neighbors looked at them with disdain, for they kept the windows open at night, but Charles turned them around with highly cultured talk on the latest trends in British literature and invitations to brunch at their loft. A year after their wedding, the entire tenant body of their four-story building on Wooster Street was convinced of their privilege to know Charles and Veronica Gladstone, the next big thing in literature and entertainment, respectively. They felt justified when Charles’s first novel won a literary prize, and Veronica’s solo show was aired on PBS.

Charles loved her even more when he first held their son, Otto, in his arms. The boy had his mother’s lanky legs, his father’s brown eyes and bushy black hair. He kissed the baby’s palm, then his wife’s hand, and cried, for the first time in his adult life.

Otto was too little to understand what happened, but old enough – at four – to know that he no longer had a mother. It happened quietly, one early morning at the kitchen table. Veronica’s disease was a mystery, had no symptoms, but was the reason for her great height. She had warned him before the wedding that she might evaporate soon – that was the word she used, evaporate – but Charles didn’t believe her. Or didn’t want to believe her.  He still didn’t. She was his angel, and angels don’t evaporate, even Otto knew that.

Charles knew that grief was a room with no doors, so he opened the windows, for his son. He took him around the world.

“We will plant a flower for Mom in every country we visit,” he told Otto.

“A red one, her favorite,” affirmed his son. “She’d like that.”

They visited thirty-two countries, for each year of Veronica’s life. When they came back a year later, Otto, a boy of five, stood in front of the mirror, and said, “I’ll be tall, like Mom.”

“She’d like that,” answered Charles.

(c) Vica Miller 

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For my Mom.

.

I always remembered her lips. Round, smooth, never chapped and always pink and shiny, even in the coldest Russian winter. I haven’t seen her in twenty years, but when she wrote and asked to meet, the first thing I thought of were her lips. Not how she had hurt me, not how I had run away – her lips. Are they the same lips, I wondered, plump and moist, as if gilded by a morning dew? Does she still apply Chap Stick in the middle of a hurried storytelling or a recital, as she did back then, in St. Petersburg Conservatory – leaning forward, absorbed by the boys’ chorus singing a cappella, their high voices reverberating off the ceilings? Or in the midst of telling me of her boyfriend back in New York, wondering if he’d been faithful while she was away, trying on Russia?

Every time we talked, my eyes rested on her lips, soft as a child’s skin, their smooth curves as if outlined by a painter. Not that I ever touched them, but I must have missed half of her stories watching her lips. How they moved. How they glistened after she licked them. How they stretched into a smile, exposing two rows of perfectly even white teeth.

I was ready to turn off the dim desk light, my husband already asleep, his tall body draped over the bed, when I saw her email. After all these years Eden wanted to meet, as if nothing had ever happened. As if she hadn’t made me feel homeless and unwanted; as if I hadn’t cried every night for a week, alone in a foreign city that was her home, where she was my only friend. As if I could erase my memories of first sharing Russia with her, later wrecked by the cold shower of her irritation and annoyance with me in New York – because I stayed at her parent’s townhouse on Gramercy Park for a week too long.

But that was twenty years earlier. I had moved out of her parents’ house. I had found a job. I’d gotten married and had kids. So had she. And now she wanted to meet, in the city, which has become home to us both, and where we could have lived the rest of our lives without ever seeing each other again. Without exchanging another word, another glance, or point of view. Never having to remember what we shared back then, at twenty. Our walks along the Neva, the White Nights, the never-ending days, the evenings stretching into mornings under pretense of dusk; slumber parties, Eden wearing a torn Beatles tank top, me in a new Run DMC T-shirt. Translating Akhmatova’s poems into English, and Blake’s into Russian, reading Nabokov’s Lolita in two languages at once, savoring every vowel as if it were a jewel, wondering if she’d ever speak Russian like that, if I’d ever speak English like this.

Today, twenty years later we’ll meet again, because I said I’d love to. Because I forgave her. Because I didn’t think she’d remember my hurt. It was my hurt. And she probably had enough of her own to bother thinking about mine. Everybody has hurts. One doesn’t even have to ask, to know how much pain a person has had in her life. Just stand closer without uttering a word, look into her eyes a little longer… it’s all there.

So I’ve forgiven her even before I agreed to meet. She was still the same Eden, who had sat across from my mom at our kitchen table in St. Petersburg. I can’t sit across from Mom anymore, but I can sit across from Eden, so I went.

On Thursday afternoon, walking towards the meeting place I suggested, a small Italian Salumeria across from Verdi Square, I looked at my reflection floating in the windows, wondering what I’d say.  “Kak dela?” or “How are you?” Would she speak Russian to me and I, English to her, as we had back then?

I spotted her as she walked out of a chocolate shop, and saw her lips: pink and moist, stretched into a Cheshire smile. Eden – the mother of two, a 40-year old, with a few wrinkles around her eyes, but her tight full lips, unchanged. I felt as if a piece of my youth had been given back to me. Why was it a relief to know that her fabulous lips were intact after all these years, as if they held a secret to preserving my own life? We hugged.

“Shopping for chocolates?” I asked.

She laughed. “They have the same store in my building in Brooklyn,” she said. “I had no idea they were in Manhattan too.”

“I wanted to sit outside,” I said in Russian. Eden nodded and sat down, hurriedly putting away The New Yorker she held under her arm, then fumbling with a white serviette. A twig of rosemary fell out from it and Eden picked it up. I looked away to give her a moment. Was she nervous?

It was the first spring day after the longest winter. Forsythias and dandelions bursting with yellow. Pregnant women no longer covering their bellies, as if ready to aknowledge to the world the lives inside them.

I had wine, Eden didn’t.  She was still breastfeeding, she said. I’d stopped a year earlier. We talked, in English. Her father had died 10 years ago. I told her my mother had thought him so elegant and well groomed, unlike the men at her research institute.

“Well-groomed?” Eden asked and laughed.

“Yes, that’s what she said.”

My mother had died 19 years ago, I told her. Eden’s green eyes glistened.

“She made the best pirozhki in the world,” she said. I nodded. The cherry trees across Amsterdam Avenue unfolded in pink fuzziness. I thought of Mom’s hands.

“I want to bring up something from the past,” Eden said. “You probably don’t even remember this episode, but it’s been haunting me for a long time. Before you moved out of our house, you told me that I’d changed so much since Russia, and had become nepristupnaya… I didn’t know the word and had to look it up. Unapproachable. You told me I’d become unapproachable, not the person you knew.” Eden took a sip of water from the tall glass in front of her. “I want to apologize. Will you forgive me?” Her lips quivered and a round tear rolled out of her right eye and settled on her upper lip.

I touched her lips for the first time. They were as soft I’d imagined. I caressed her forehead and her eyebrow. I told her I didn’t remember saying those words, but that the hurt still lingered somewhere in my body, behind the rib cage, on the left, close to where the heart is. That I didn’t think she’d remembered “the episode”. I told her I’d forgiven her. We’ve known each other for more than half of our lives.

As I looked at her round face, framed by short brown hair with streaks of gray, into her green eyes made bigger by sadness and regret, I thought about how we had met and then parted, like two ships that left a harbor in different directions, sailed through rough waters, lost the way at times, and then drifted back. Is this a safe harbor now? I’d like to think it is. And we’re still the same ships, now moored, older and rougher on the surface, our sails withered by time and loss, but more forgiving and willing to forget.

After, we talked all the way to the subway, unable to part, as if our words entangled us into their nets, into the woven bits of our lives, each new sentence a string to our past, and perhaps future.

VM © 2011

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The white mesh hung from the broken wedding tent like a veil, forgotten.

Her daughter became a wife a few hours earlier.

Jill was alone on the beach, now dark and silent, with the solitary boat blinking its yellow eye in a distance. The tent stood like an abandoned ship run ashore, the garland of flowers still woven over its wooden poles, the mesh curving in the wind – a damaged sail. One beam has fallen to the ground forming a giant upside down V with another. Jill picked out a few flowers. White lilies, maroon gerberas, orange birds of paradise. Why didn’t they bring them inside after the ceremony? They would have made beautiful bouquets, for her daughter’s suite, for her own room.

She remembered how Ross brought her a white rose every Sunday.  She’d still be asleep, and he’d walk in with the first rays of sun, an old aluminum tray in his hands – the one they had bought at a flea market the day they had moved in, now riddled with scratches,- a cup of coffee, a toast with jelly, and a single white rose on it. She’d stretch and smile and he’d lean over and kiss her good morning, then watch her drink the coffee.

She had since defined happiness with that moment: the first sip of coffee, her husband watching her.

When the cup was half-empty, he’d take it from her hands, and put it back on the tray, pull the sheets down. He watched her for minutes, sometimes half an hour, as she lay naked in bed, not moving, his hand gliding over her shoulders, breasts, belly, thighs. She had once asked him what he was doing. “I’m remembering you,” he’d said, “for when I’m not here.”

Image

Jill stood under the tent. She no longer cried. She had stopped a while back, two years to be exact. Ross had known for a while but didn’t utter a word. She blamed his paleness for sleepless nights, and his thinning body for a new diet he took to observing, welcoming his Sunday observations with eagerness. There was something exquisitely seductive and forbidden in the way he traced her collarbones and nipples, circled her belly button, never crossing into where she wanted to be. He loved her on other nights and mornings, always when she least expected, but never on Sundays. “One can’t make physical love to a Goddess,” he’d say. “This is how I worship you.”

Jill wondered if Zoe’s husband knew the art of seduction. He must have since she chose him. And who was she to worry about it – a widow, a broken ship in the desert? A decade without him. Why was she still here?

The single beam of light from the hotel’s roof cut in her eyes and she turned towards the ocean. The mesh caught her right hand and she let it. “A widow’s glove,” thought Jill as she traced individual tiny squares of the white web with her index finger and thumb.

She remembered her own wedding. Thirty years has passed, and she still felt the touch of his fingers, dry and nervous, as they traced her eyebrow after he lifted the veil. Ross looked through her, his eyes filled to the brim. Her own mother wasn’t there to see that, but she, Jill, was here for her girl tonight, her little princess now twenty-five. But Ross wasn’t. How she still missed him, every day, every morning, tonight.

She stood under the tent, inhaling the damp air, getting lost in the monotonous rumble of the waves, their drops settling on her face. Someone touched her shoulder.

“Mom, what are you doing here? Everything alright?”

She turned to face her daughter, lean and strong, a stubborn little girl with green eyes and thick flowing hair, Ross’s.

“Yes, baby. All is well. I’ll be there in a minute.”

“I want you with us, Mom. Please.”

Zoe kissed her on the forehead, and turned back, now in a cocktail dress, the gown gone, no veil.

Jill stood under the tent as if it could save her from herself; two used and broken things, now superfluous and forgotten. She untangled her hand, put a few flowers into a small bouquet. The fragrance, sweet and already rotting; some petals wrinkled, some falling. He had always called her “My flower”.

Jill picked more flowers, reached up to the horizontal beam, and tore them out, one by one, the gerberas, the lilies, the birds of paradise, her hands full, flowers falling on her shoulders, breasts, feet. She put the heap on the sand, and rushed to the left beam, untangling the leaves, tearing off the stems, cupping the flower heads. She held them all, her hands forming a giant O, her face inside the fragrant breathing sphere. The ocean lulled its song. Jill stood upright, then let the flowers fall to her feet. Her sorrow went with them. She stripped the right pole of the flowers, tore down the mesh, spread it on the sand. They were hers, Zoe’s, Ross’s. She gathered every last one on the mesh, folded its corners, made a knot. The bale was heavier than she thought, so she dragged it. She thought of knocking down the beams, their listless nakedness hovering over like a bad omen, but had no strength.

Jill entered the ballroom as the first dance was ending.

“I’m back,” she said to Zoe, and poured the flowers at her feet. “This is from Dad… He loved you more than anything.”

“Thank you, Mom.”

© Vica Miller

1/27/2013

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My Salon tomorrow is poetry, so I felt it fitting to give you a sampling of mine.

Warning – it’s mostly sad.

* * *

flowers blooming, as the sun has set
….the moon is closing its eyes
i am quiet and loving and speechless

glittering smile, in half and in
quarters
conquers my face as you asked
…waiting for you – i am a
peaceful lilly…

* * *

I died today a hundred little deaths.
The hands that clasped my heart
Are cold and nervous.
The touch of death. It needs no gloves.
It cuts through my insides like knife through butter.
The ribcage shattered, pierced lungs, my heart still beating.
It bleeds maroon, the color of my lips, of monthly flow.
They sit around my bed, the sister-deaths. It’s quiet.
I’ll give them all of me, it’s their turn to claim me.
My eyes will go first, they can’t see you.
My hands will wilt and dry for yours won’t hold them.
I’ll let my mouth rot, then disappear.
You’re too far to notice.
My hair thins and falls, no shoulder left to hold it.
My legs of silk, you called them, now gone.
The sacred cave between them can’t stop bleeding.
It bleeds my love, my river that you drank.
The life itself is soaking through the sheets.
But not to worry. The bed is empty now, room is cold, there’s no light.
All forms of energy evicted.
No longer spark of two adoring smiles.
No more accords of ringing laughter.
Nothing.
All has been claimed by death
but used and left by you before that.
* * *
==========
Good Morning
Every morning I wake up next to you,
familiar curves settled against my body.
Your warm skin smells of summer fog,
and I know it won’t rain today.
You look peaceful, and your smile wakes
before you do. Because my hand brushes
through your hair, and over your shoulders.
And you know it won’t rain today.
How long have we been here, together?
Do you remember the time before we met?
It faded in the distance, like yesterday.
But I know it was raining then.
* * *
==========

 

You almost made me whole.

I am unbroken.

Undone, revived, no longer nursing wounds.

The “almost”. Which is more?

The “all”, the “most”, the lingering of doubt?

You almost made me whole.

Now set me free.

I’ll slowly walk away; my steps will leave no prints.

Your eye won’t catch my shadow

For I have none.

And maybe I will fly. You gave me wings.

Please don’t look.

I’m unbroken.

When I am whole, I’ll call your name again.

 

* * *
==========

 

Элегия

Сегодня переменная влажность. Безоблачно.
Завтра безветрие. Беззавтрие
вальяжно расположилось на
подлокотнике моих мыслей.

Вчера почернело в тумане. Погналось
за призраком смысла. Устало, но
осталось зудом напоминать
о прожитом. Ладно.

Сейчас перешло в сию минуту.
Часов не осталось для ветра.
Облачность погрустнела,
отдалась фиолетовым тучам.

Наверное мучат чувства,
призраки их заметались, замерло
постоянство, открылись дебри

сомнений. Страшно.

Дым запотевших ладоней,
холодная ясность взгляда.
Было когда-то нужно,
теперь никому не надо.

(c) Vica Miller

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