Archive for October, 2011
Saugerties is a pleasant place; beyond the coffee shops and fruit markets are rows of tall, colorful houses lined along endless concave streets like stretches of rainbows. But it also has the river—the same river. So even though I’m sitting on a bench that’s more than a hundred miles away from the city, except for the lighthouse, the water across from me is no different.
The lighthouse is tall with a rounded black terrace and a point on top. I watch the people linger around it. Some are inside, their backs against the windows. Others walk across a wooden dock. No one steps onto the terrace.
The bench also has me in perfect firing range of a breeze that I imagine tumbling down the mountain like little rocks, blowing against the lighthouse so the chimes hanging on the wooden dock whistle along with the rippling water. It hits often, not like the breeze in the city, which only found me between the spread of buildings.
Suddenly there’s a sound to my left. I turn and see something else that usually doesn’t find me: a tall, attractive woman, brown hair splitting at her forehead. I don’t think she’ll stop, but she does.
“You got a smoke?”
I dig my hand into my pocket, nod, and move over so she can sit.
“I gotta run,” she says, and looks at the space I made. “But I could really use a smoke.”
“Don’t you have a minute?”
She considers me carefully. “You’re new in town, right?”
“You’re not crazy are you?”
She takes the cigarette and sits, leaning in for me to light it. She smells like wine. “Depends?” she repeats, “what’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s not Tuesday,” I say. “So you’re in luck. I’m only crazy on Tuesday.”
She takes a drag of the cigarette. “That so? All right then, crazy man, what’s a guy like you doing out here alone?”
“I’d tell you, but I don’t want to give the secret away.”
“Makes sense,” she says. “Crazy people keep secrets.”
“How about this,” I begin. I realize I’m still holding the lighter so I put it away. “You tell me why you’re in such a rush, and then I’ll tell you something about me.”
She looks at her watch. I think about what I should start with. “It sounds like a fair deal, and I’d like to, but I really don’t have the time right now.”
“Probably because you’ve got secrets too.”
She seems taller the second time she stands. I want to stand too, to see if I’m taller than she is, but I decide to stay sitting. “I’ll leave that up to you, crazy man,” she says. “Thanks for the smoke. I’m sure I’ll see you again.”
Considering five minutes ago I was thinking of leaving, I’m satisfied being quiet and watching her body shrink into the distance. I take a deep breath and turn to the river. I knew there was something about this place—that proved it. A boat stops at the lighthouse. It’s the fourth of the day. Then I see someone looking at me from the terrace. I know who it is, but I can’t believe it. I stand to get a better view, but she turns and walks back into the building, and I know I won’t be able to see her again.
Margot fiddled with the eyepieces of the binoculars. If she squinted, she could see the moon, round and white and far away in the darkening sky. She turned the knob backwards, and the moon grew until it filled the lenses. She imagined astronauts in puffy white spacesuits and bubble helmets, driving a flagpole with the United States flag into the spotted moon rock. There had been pictures like that in her history book.
“The moon doesn’t have a face, Lilly.”
“Over here.” Her sister Lilly’s hand blurred through the lens, guiding Margot’s head to the left. “Do you see it now?”
A bright yellow spot appeared in Margot’s vision. She blinked several times until her eyes focused on a grinning face, thick red lips smiling over a wide mouth of white teeth. A black line curved upwards in a swirling motion for its nose, with two crooked angles fixed for eyebrows. She turned the adjusting knob, moving the face farther away until it took the shape of a large yellow blimp floating above the stadium.
“Arturo’s Tacos,” she read. “That’s tacos. Not the moon’s face.” She set the binoculars down on the table.
“Then who brought me the bike?” Lilly puckered her lips and pressed Berry Blast lip gloss kisses on the glass.
“You don’t have a bike.”
“I asked the moon for a bike like Sarah’s, and when I woke up this morning, it’d brought me one with pink streamers. Go look.”
Margot jumped up and ran down the hallway, making sure to tiptoe when she passed Momma’s door. She pulled on her snowboots and threw open the front door of the trailer to see a small pink bike leaning against the railing. Pink and gold streamers flowed from the bike’s handlebars, and lightning bolts curved along the middle and front bars.
“Isn’t it pretty?” Lilly’s teeth chattered together.
Kara slowed her pace through the east hall of the nursing home, checking to make sure Nurse Dearn wasn’t around before rolling her book cart into Mister Jackson’s room. “We don’t have much time, Jackie. Dearn’s on my case.”
“In my day, we’d have called her a harpy.”
“I’d say what my generation calls her, but I don’t want to make you blush.”
Jackie laughed, then waved her closer. “How much did we make this time?”
She handed over a deposit slip. “You’re set for the next five months.”
“It’s strange,” he said, as he pushed the slip into his bedside drawer. “I know I sold something, but I can’t remember what it was.” Biting his lip, he looked up at her. “What was it?”
“I can’t tell you. Those are the rules.”
“I know–I remember that. But…there are holes. It’s disturbing.”
“We can stop whenever you want.”
He shook his head, his lips tightening as he said, “My son was in to see me today. He lost another job. Can’t afford this place anymore. After all I’ve done for him…”
“I don’t like living here, but it beats sharing a urine-scented double with some drooling idiot down at the county assisted-living center–assisted dying is more like it.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to sell your memories. You’re under no obligation to do this.”
“And my boy is apparently under no obligation to me. Hook me up. See what you find. Tell me what it’s worth.”
“How much of it?”
“Whatever you want to take, hon’. My Alice left me after fifty years of marriage. I’m stuck with this lowlife son while my stockbroker daughter who could buy this place, much less pay my rent, writes me off. Why the hell do I want to remember any of it?”
“Okay. Calm down.” She dug out a pair of small goggles and slipped them over his eyes, fastening the strap, then attaching the wires that linked them to another pair of goggles that she put on.
Jackie moaned as the goggles started to hum. “I hate this part–why can’t you make me forget this, too?”
“I don’t know.” She didn’t understand the tech that went into the goggles. But then, she didn’t have to. Her role was creative–Boris said she made the best memflicks he’d ever seen.
Up to now, she’d been selective, just taking little pieces of Jackie’s memory, but chunks–big, meaty ones–sold so much better. If she did it right, he could be set for life.
She sat down in the chair next to him, immersed in his memories, tapping on the goggles when she wanted to tag a part, using her eyes to set the crop area.
“I’ll love you forever, Alice. I can wait for the wedding night if you’re not ready.”
“I’m coming home, darlin’! We can get married.”
“We’re pregnant? Oh my God, we’re pregnant?”
“We can try again. Sweetheart, we can try again.”
“It’s a boy. I have a son!”
“Take a cigar–pink this time, my friend.”
“What do you mean you’re dropping out of college? Did you get kicked out of this one, too?”
“Why doesn’t she ever call? It’s like I embarrass her.”
“Who is he? Who is he, damn it? No one just leaves. There’s always someone else!”
“Well?” Jackie asked, and he sounded like he was crying.
“It’s good. It’s very good.” There was a big market for this kind of “slice of everyday American life,” a yearning for what was–even if it turned ugly at the end. “I can make you rich, Jackie.” She reached out, found his hand, and squeezed it. “But I’ve told you before: who we are–our personality–it’s a sum of our memories. Once they’re gone, your life will be gone. too.”
“What life? Being an old man, lying here all day?”
“Lying here all day knowing who you are.”
“Not sure that makes it any easier, Kara. Just do it.”
“Leave everything before Alice.” He squeezed her hand. “I had a nice childhood. I had great parents, fun times. And Alice wasn’t my first–I can remember sex before her without any guilt.” He winked at her. “And I’ll still have you, right?”
“Well, if I take it all, you won’t remember me the next time you see me, but we’ll get reacquainted. And I’ll make sure you’re okay.”
“You always have, sweetheart. I’d have been out on my keister a long time ago if you hadn’t come along. You might like the younger me a whole lot better.”
“I doubt that.” She leaned down and kissed his cheek, then whispered in his ear, “I can still just take bits.”
“No. I don’t want to know I’m forgetting things. Just take it all and let me remember my life when it was simpler.” He laid his hand against her cheek. “Did I ever tell you that you look like my first girlfriend?”
“No, you never did.”
“Well, you do.” He let go of her. “Now. Let’s get started. We’re burning daylight–isn’t that what filmmakers used to say?”
“Yeah. Only I think moonlight’s more fitting in our case.”
“Well, we’re burning something. Get to it, kiddo.”
She got to it.