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A Song in 14 Movements
I Soft silken stone, hue deep green, almost obsidian, captures light, washes out the mauve fabric around it, not right, a little grey mixed in, to capture the light that pours in during the morning, get out of bed, stand by the window, see the sky, even in the winter when it's flat matte, that's what will work. Mariah stretched her neck, fluttered her eyes into focus, and looked all around the room, then back to the empty pine planks and the window. "Green stone, Mark, we need something green, deep green, here, that lifts up from the carpet, it's going to be so big, you know?" Mark said something quietly behind her. She rubbed her cupped palm briskly over the knuckle of her thumb. "The big lights for over the kitchen island are coming in a hour," Mark repeated. "Oh," Mariah whispered. "I can feel the thrum." II The first notes sound like raindrops. Tap the charcoal stick, once, twice, then a third time. The horn comes in like licorice, tugged out a strand at a time. Stroke, bold upstroke, shoulder pushed down into the finish, a brow furrowed, then stroke again, with a big rush, hard down, ahead of the horn now, and the raindrops curve into a struck chord and then the slow, swagger-out walk-walk of the piano. Michael threw the charcoal down at the pad. It bounced off to the floor and rolled against a pile of rough lumber. He yanked his hands against his hair. "Fuck, fuck, fuck fuck fuck!" "It's ok, baby." Mariah whispered. "Did you see it? Did you see the light? It was right there!" Michael stared in her eyes. His were a soft kind of green, like a green you'd see at the distant horizon on a murky ocean day. They quivered.
Mariah pursed her lips, thin threads pressed flat and dry. She could twist them, run the corners up, make him smile. She moved across the floor. The first notes plunked again. A slow knell. "Turn the fucking music off, for Christ's sake. You are trying to drive me nuts." Michael bowed his head down, pushed out his lip, went stone still. Mariah fumbled for the remote. "It's ok, baby. It's going to be ok," she murmured. III The big latte hot on her hand through the cardboard sleeve, the cold grey winter air pressed down on the dull silver of her car , the long filaments of branches inked around her, a throb at the front of her head, all dried out. She squinted. The asphalt lightened in tone and ran into the concrete walk. A smoothing out of what was around her. Cars pulled into the lot, men, women, couples decamped, ran in for their coffee, tea, whatever. Costigan was late. Sunday afternoon. A football game, maybe. His car pulled in. Always a black Jaguar. "Your old man car," she teased one time, early on, and never said it again, no, not with the blank hard stare, the cups of his cheeks pale and tight. She never said that again and she kept a list inside her, not her head really, but in someplace that was all her own that she could tuck things that would help her away in, that list had all the things that she could do or say that made him go cold, pulled the anger out to cover his eyes, send him away. The back door first. Theo stepped out. There was light in the tossed blond hair, the deep brown hair, that Michael wanted to see. Her little boy looked around the lot, then fixed her, waved, brushed his hands against his jacket, stilled. Oh her heart wanted to burst every time all of a sudden when she saw him. Her head cleared. Her smile reached down to her breasts, warmed her all around the edges.
Costigan turned to look over the top of the car, saw her, eyes flashed to Theo, and the boy was still, good, sensitive to the balance between them, him, his mother, his father, his beauty. Mariah straightened in her seat. She wouldn't get out. No need to get cold. IV Michael kept his tongue moving, the contact point linking currents, slick flesh against slick flesh, viscous, frictionless against her folds. Mariah pushed her head back against the thick pillow, turned to the side, out of sight, pushing her lens to the thin trickle of white spray, cocaine dust, a tingling on her nub where Michael lapped the powder, still trickling wetness from his nose, the glean in his eye, "this is so good baby, oh," so she skips her hit, it doesn't help really, holds her hard edge up in the light, but she's going down to the bottom now, can feel her heart slow. He's preening, rubbing himself against the linens in rhythm with his tongue, She's floating now, looking up through the translucent web of water, seeing them as if from down below, burrowed into the mattress, curving between the springs, wrapped like a snake against the box frame. She felt a frustration grow, wants to take her hands and pull his head away, push a bristle brush roughly where his limpid tongue wanders, knows though that he couldn't stand the shame, the shiftless, rampant need. She throws her clenched fists back above her head and from below the mattress, her snake-self wraps around her wrists, pulls her back, she can't move, her breath gets short, and now the urgency lifts from the fog to surge, surge, surge again. V The crate was in pieces on the driveway. The sideboard sat on the grey gravel. Mark stood nearby. First he looked up at the balcony, then around the side of the house, then straight at his reflection in the library window. "Why can't it go in the front?" Mariah repeated. "It won't fit up the stairs. "
"The back?" "It won't fit up the stairs." "Measure it." Mariah looks away when Mark's eyes squint, a narrow thread of light, and he bows his chin down, licking his lips, scuffling in his coat pocket for the tape measure. Ewa's two big nephews sit with their legs dangling at the back of the truck. "Help him," she says sharply. Gravel crunch. A black Range Rover turns off the street. The husband, Keogh, drives. Terri gets out, the big smile, electric light, warm breeze in her eyes, Michael talks about the rush that comes with it, Mariah steps back, the sideboard is lit in the cold light. She rubs her palm over the meat of her thumb briskly. "It's amazing," Terri says. Keogh looks up to the balcony, runs his fingers, discolored against the wood, gentle though on the big hand, big man, towering over, swallow up, she moves one step back, tilts her head back, a baby robin now, throat open, he smiles down, the rush of cold, can't move, push back. "You're going to have to get it up on the balcony. It won't go up the stairs. " They carry it in the front and set it in the living room. Mark calls another mover with the equipment they need. "Matt won't pay for this crew today," Terri says. Mariah sees the cold flash. Thrilling recognition. Wants to pull Terri in, clench her tight, warm, safe, filling with breath, floating. "Of course," Mariah says. The piece is in the house. The house is merging its energy. VI The still, warm steadiness of his breath opened up, dim lit through closed eyes, natural, a long flat breath, gush gone, Theo, her son. He lay full-bodied along her side, almost toe to toe, his nine-year old frame about to match hers. Swatches of skin and fabric in absolute stillness. Mariah felt it, his hand on the underside of her breast where the scar still burned, his knee pushed up over
her belly where the knife cut opening that was only his hid, his thin thigh and little penis, stiff morning flush, the bony downline of his foot, all positioned and held. She released her breath in the long yogic exhale. Don't disturb the moment. She looked for the dark in her eyes. Theo's breath was lamb strokes, fine wool brushing on dry flesh. Her son melting back into her. Push back, brain voice rising, keep out, there is no room in the little place I am in. Mariah waited. Theo didn't move. She wants the resting moment back. She was going into it. There it is, off past her edge, outside of her now, rolling down her arm like a marble. She can't reach out to it. She'll disturb him. Inside her is all empty now. They can take the knives and cut open where they need to, wherever they want to, they won't find her. They can come black-shaped, rigid, push down grab tie up tarry, she's in the marble rolling in the light, washed in hues and soft matter. Mariah felt the panic tremor, the signal moment, and held her breath for the dive. Theo stirred. Mariah opened her eyes, whispered. "It's all right, baby." VII Costigan had papers to sign. They sat at the table in the coffee shop tucked behind the entryway. Mariah pushed the pen quickly. She sipped her latte. "It's all fucked up," he said. Mariah nodded. "All fucked up." She smiled. The bitterness could seep into her voice now and he didn't notice. She was a deal that was all closed up, toted up on the ledger or whatever Costigan said when something had reached the point where the gains and losses were locked in.
"Ewa bringing Theo tonight?" Mariah nodded again. "She can cook dinner? I didn't..." "She's bringing two trays of golabki, she said." "Good." Costigan looked at her in that way that meant rough tugging, hot breath, lip touching, stiffness, prodding, release. She pulled back her shoulders. "You look good." "Yeah?" "How's the artist?" "Michael's good." "That little girl?" "She's good." "Theo talks about them sometime." "He sees Michael a bit." Costigan pushed the crumpled, spent sugar packet across the laminated table top. "Ewa says she is worried about you," he said. "Fuck you, Costigan. Ewa would never tell you that. " VIII Rain pelted the windshield of the Range Rover, the waxed tops of the mirrors, splashed in the swip-swipe of the wipers, lifted the grey flat road in frothing pock marks, slid under the tires and somersaulted back into the air with a shirring, thrilling release. Terri's voice was light and excited. "It looks beautiful, just beautiful. It makes the corner of the room. I love it. " Mariah could see the two canvasses side by side, snug like lovers, thread of black running from one to the other in the cream layer, filled with yellow and white hues, lit up, that was hung now on the living room wall. Terri sounded like a gentle kiss, an urgent caress, and Mariah could feel her essence opening like the pistil of a spring flower to the pin-prick prod of the hummingbird, warm sugary syrup pulsing along the filament of her veins and expanding to the surface of her
skin, through her tissues, her joints, her muscles, loosening each thing in her, uncoupling her from memory, from time, from the rough intrusion of ill-temper and nightmares lingering in the dark temporal loam. She turned onto Merryvale and let the car coast to the side of the lane as Terri said goodbye and Mariah was half-hearing, suffused with the warmth and softness. She rest her head back and looked ahead through hooded eyelids to the curve of the road ahead, her house, hidden in the grey melding of rain and siding and window trim. The light in the big window was an invitation, a narrow funnel that sat squarely in the vanishing point of the darkness. Rain points, cold now against the back of her hand, her wrist, her chin, the side of her ear. Wind lashing, footfalls just past the fluttering blue tarpaulin, the tin metal waste box, plaster bleeding into the dark ground, murky. The warmth retreating inside her. A next step, the dancer's reach, the door: inside the foyer Mariah put down her satchel, shed her coat, smiled at the soft warmth still lingering, called "Theo" into the stillness, the storm roaring lightly outside and in aural echo. The echo inside now, and the stillness broader, then the murmur licking at the edge of her senses. Mariah walked in the living room. A photographer's lamp stood in the empty corner. A white sheet was spread on the floor. Michael sat cross-legged and shirtless, an expanse of masculine flesh. He leaned forward. Theo stood close in front of Michael in white jockey shorts and a white undershirt. His eyes were closed. His fists were clenched. Michael reached his hands to Theo's hips. "Now!" Michael yelled. IX "You know I won't, Mariah." Michael held the thin foil across the car seat. He twisted the tiny spoon between his thumb and forefinger. "I know it wasn't, but you can't." Mariah said flatly. She waved away the foil.
Inside her, in the pit of her stomach, there was a tiny black ball of dead panic that she could not stop thinking about. I feel this panic all the time, she thought. She couldn't see colors move. She couldn't see shapes shift, express themselves into empty spaces. She couldn't find the feeling that was so excited she couldn't stand it. She wouldn't let Michael alone with Theo. She wouldn't let Michael touch her. She wouldn't say the words to herself. A different thing in Michael's hand now, a piece of paper with two brush strokes. The colors looked the same. "For the bathroom." "OK." X She put a piece of composition paper in the center of the drafting table and sat down on the high stool. Her toes wrapped around the metal support. The paper had three holes in the margin. It was from Theo's notebook. She sipped wine. She held a drafting pen in her hands. She waited. The house was silent. Theo was with Costigan. Michael was at his apartment with his daughter Emily. Mariah wrote two words, Dear Catherine, She didn't know how to continue. Her mind was like a dead motor sitting in weeds. Her body was like a mannequin discarded in the basement of a department store. She searched for a nervous feeling like a sailor searches for a faint breeze. She closed her eyes to remember. When she closed her eyes, she saw Michael pulling Theo's slender figure down to him until they were eye to eye. Mariah shuddered. She put the pen to paper.
XI Dear Catherine, When I came to live with you after Mama went away, I was very grateful. You were the sister that I always loved the most, and Henry and Tilly were the most beautiful children. I wanted to help you and never wanted to upset you. I know that many years have passed but I have to tell you something. Your husband Claude came into my room at night and had sex with me. I don't think you can believe this but it is true. He did it many times. He would make me suck him and have intercourse with him. I would have to be very quiet and he would come in the middle of the night. I can barely believe that it happened and I never think about it but I swear on our mother's grave that I am telling the truth. Maybe you know too. Claude told me that you would kick me out of the house if you discovered us. And that you would be ashamed that her younger sister was more attractive and desirable than you. That's one reason why I never told you. I was ashamed too. I am sorry that you have to find out now. I know that nothing can take away that memory and that I can't hide it and will need to live with it always. I have one thing I want to do. I need to sit down Claude and tell him that I know what he did, that you know and that he can never hurt me again. I need to do this Catherine so that I can feel myself again. Please show Claude this letter. I will drive to Longueuil. Give my love to Henry and Tilly. Your youngest sister, Mariah
XII Mariah remembers three things from her trip to Canada. XIII The drive from Wesport to Longueuil is 363 miles. It takes six hours. Catherine had agreed to meet Mariah for coffee at 10:00 at Patisserrie O Gateries on Rue St. Charles. Mariah left her house at two in the morning. She drove through the night. She was at a gas station in Plattsburg when dawn broke. The air was dry and cod. Mariah stood away from the car as the attendant filled the tank, her arms crossed against the chill, the dry heat of the cab washing away. The sunrise unfolded in slow motion. The bottom of the horizon lightened first, transforming the night grey into something soft and flesh colored. The light grew, suffusing the horizon with a misty white, and all the colors at rest in the earth lifted up to meet it, the blues and grays and greens and white and yellows, in a quiet and confident unison. Mariah walked back to her car in tears. XIV It was eight in the morning when she arrived in Longueuil. The roads were busy with commuters: the early shift at the Pratt & Whitney plant, the commuters queuing up on the Autoroute Jean Lesage to cross the St. Lawrence into Montreal, shop keepers and professionals getting an early start to the day. Mariah drove down the the marina and parked by the river. In the geography classroom in College Notre Dame de Lourdes there was a map of the St. Lawrence that showed the big river in relief, its banks drawn in minute detail, the shoals and odd eddies marked in color pen and the land behind the river, the settlements and country roads, the forests and tributaries, the lonely expanses of fields, was left bare, uncharted and unchanging. The lines of the map intrigued her. They were precise and unerring, those lines, tracing the exact curls and curves of the river bank.
The map protected the men, the vessels and the merchandise that passed through, in transport; the lives that lingered on the unsketched banks were inconsequential to the stately procession. The river held no romance or sentiment for Mariah. It left her empty when she sat by the marina as a girl on stifling summer afternoons to catch the breeze of a passing freighter as it worked its way from one of the great lakes out to the ocean. The river coursed in the wrong direction, didn't bring the promise of new beginnings, wasn't the stuff that could feed dreams like the bright light of the cities to the south, hundreds of miles away, through the prehistoric forest, across clutching swamps and sulfurous bogs, down old mountains, spilling into valleys that rolled out to the ocean. In her car in the still-emerging morning light, Mariah searched for a feeling, something inside her that she could recognize. She searched for the fear she felt when a man touched her intimately for the first time. She searched for the panic in her midsection when her body recognized its response to Claude's heavy caresses. She searched for the anger she felt when she visited her mother at the mental hospital and saw the confusion and fear cloaking her eyes, the helpless lingering smile pasted on her lips. She searched for the hot flash of rage she felt when Michael yelled the word "Open" to Theo in search for a special flash of light. She searched for the hope and joy she felt when a color settled into its place firmly. She searched for love, for dignity, for passion, for smiles, for laughter. She raced around and around in the empty room of her mind and then was still. There was nothing. Her phone rang. It was Michael. "Emily went back to Sara's, I'm going to catch the train up in a couple of hours. " "Come up tomorrow." "I want to show you something." "Tomorrow will be better. I'm going to be out all day today." "Where are you?" Mariah pushed the red button to end the call. She found the feeling that caused her to cry that dawn, but put it aside, tamped it
down in her practiced, quiet way, and waited, her hands placed on the wheel like the helmsman of one of the big boats. XV Catherine through the door of Patisserie O Gateries, walked to where Mariah sat, dropped the envelope on the table and said, "I showed Claude your letter. He says he didn't do anything and he isn't going to come." XVI Theo, in the living room, evening light, soft time, muted gold, an eye wash of sunlight and inner life, the big photo album balanced gently on his knees. Blonde hair across his face, hiding the curiosity in his eye, matching gazes with the young woman in the picture, head crowned in braids, skin fair and translucent, sepia wash across her, face gentle, eyes wise and open. "Grandma was so beautiful, mom," Theo whispered. "She was very beautiful," Mariah said. "It's not fair that she suffered so much," Theo said. "No one should be locked away like that." "She couldn't take care of herself, baby. She was going to hurt herself and they needed to watch her all the time." Mariah leaned in against her little boy, felt the uplifting music of his thoughts vibrate through his frame. "Is that when you went to live with Aunt Catherine?" Theo asked. "Around then," Mariah said. "When will we see Aunt Catherine?" Theo asked. "Sometime soon, baby. Sometime soon. " They fell silent, mother and son. The light soothed Mariah, gave her a gentle thread to tug and pull, to draw into and discover. There were new things there beyond her sight, discoveries, uncertainties that coaxed her.
"I wouldn't let anyone take you, Mom. I'd hold you tight and make you better. I'd put all my love into you and get everything bad out. " The eye gaze: blue grey, brilliant, strong like titanium, flexible, sudden and present, a tightrope, and Mariah took the step up, off the stool, away from the net, lost the whole of perspective around her, and then, in a signal moment, her spirit caught the great rush of her son's love, her mother's love, and soared up, blinded, spiraling, without control, until all she could see, far down below, dwarfed by the height, was the little girl she once was, head bowed, eyes closed, breathing smoothly, asleep, innocent and safe from the world. Ocean City, July 2010
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