Tag Archives: Juliette Binoche

Too Far

It was the most abhorred sound to the ear:  A combination of pain and anguish, layered on top of a man’s hysteria.  It seemed to have come from down below, from the streets.  Perhaps, not unusual for the streets of Manhattan, but it’s been years since I had left.  I had wanted space — and space I had received.  Miles of it, with dozens of different cities crammed into one.  And the distance between each other was at times too significant to mend with compassion.

“Fucking spoilt!  Some people don’t have anything… (mumble, mumble, hmmmm).  Why are you like this…”  (Here, I thought he called her by her name.)   “YEAH!  YEAH, YOU ARE!  SO FUCKING SPOILT!”

I looked out of the window.  The end of spring hadn’t yet burnt off the green from the hills.  I studied the bits of lawns, visible in between the rooftops of my street.  The next street over had a more monochromatic look to it, with a row of two-storied, eggshell-colored buildings with those thin metallic windowpanes, painted white, only strong enough to withstand the climate of Southern Cal.  The screens of bathroom widows were narrow and dusty.  An Armenian looking woman, with a hairnet stretched over her auburn perm, was unloading the trunk of her son’s SUV, in the uncovered parking spot of the building below.  The son, with one leg on the ground, the other — still under the steering wheel — was staring at the screen of his mobile phone.

“YOU!  YOU!  YOU took all of it!…  (mumble, mumble, pain).  And now, I don’t have a savings account!”  (He must’ve said her name, again).  “I’ve sacrificed everything!  FOR WHAT?!”

The voice of the screaming man appeared to have no effect on the son or the mother, both consumed by their business in the parking lot.  I unlatched the sliding doors of my patio.  The accumulated dust had discolored the doormat underneath my feet.  It felt grainy.  The rains of this past winter had marked the pink, uneven floor with circular stains, with jagged edges.  I should really make a habit of sitting out here more.  But the work!  The work.  It consumed every bit of presence in a day; until half a day’s sunlight passed and my desire to find myself amidst other humans — completely burnt away.  And the slowness of an aware mind would be gone, gone, gone, into the daze of exhaustion.

The man by now was screaming.  Just screaming:

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH.  (Inhale.)   AAAAAGGGGHHHH.  AAAAAGGGGHHHH.”

Angst.  One uninterrupted, unidentifiable sound, leaving a mouth crooked with pain so immense, I imagined, it had to seem impossible to survive.  But he would land on the other end of it, most likely.  Because even if one reached the edge, the threshold, the limit — too far, unthinkable for a human heart — one would have to go on living.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH…”

The mother, who had begun hanging the beige plastic bags onto her bent forearm, like unshapely lanterns, looked up.  She’d heard it too.

“You said, I don’t fucking love you anymore!  YOU!  YOU SAID THAT!  This, morning… (Mumble.  Moan.  Name?)  And then you went to work!”  (A squeeze of empathy made me brace myself.  I had begun disliking detours from my earned tranquility, even if it disguised itself as apathy.)  “Now, you have to live with that!  You said that!  YES!  YES, YOU DID.  And now, you live with it!”

The mother had to have said something to her son; because now, he too looked up.  Unready to confront humanity, I scurried off inside.  Quickly, I slid the door.  It thumped against the frame, too loudly.

I walked along the outer edges of my place.  I learned my ear against each of the four walls.  One of the walls vibrated with another, “AAAAGGGGHHH!”  The sound was happening next door, and I could now make out the words.

“Go try it, Lena!  Go!  Go see for yourself how other people live!”  He looked so young the last time I saw him.  In time, such loss shaves off years.  With most people though — it compiles them.  “But if you think I’m going to walk away in silence…”  His voice cracked then.  He stopped.  I think he broke down.

I stood against the wall.   In a short while, it was a woman that began speaking.  She had been silent until now.  “Mumble, mumble,” I could hear.  “Mumble, mumble, mumble, hmmmm.”

I could remember her:  A tall Russian girl with that particular face that looked majestic in photographs but slightly off in person.  Tall, blonde, blue-eyed and slightly timid, she suffered from an awkwardness in how she moved her body.  I’d met her in the lobby once.  We shared a giggle in an uncomfortable closeness while getting our mail, from our neighboring mailboxes.

“I hearrd,” she finally spoke, “zat you verre Rrussian to.”  Her accent stumped me.  After two decades of living here, I had acquired the arrogance of a native.  She waited for my answer, locked her mailbox and leaned her back against the wall.  Her legs outstretched in front of her, for meters and meters, as it seemed.  And when she saw my sizing up the distances before her, she pulled them back.  Her face blushed with a sheepish smile.

“Yes,” I spoke looking at her lips.  I wanted to decipher how she spoke.  “Yes.  It’s been years though.”

“Oh,” she ran her fingers through the hair behind her ear.  “Verre… um… you frrom?”

This would’ve been the perfect time to switch to our native tongue.

“I am from the West Coast,” I said in my second tongue, catching myself pronouncing things slower, directly to her mouth.  Something was off there, definitely, besides the accent.  I thought it could’ve been the structure of her jaw.

“Oh,” she said again.  “I sought you verre frrom Moscow.  Zat’s verre I’m from.”

“Go, Lena…  Go back home, if you want…”  The man was sobbing now.  Un-peeling myself from the wall, I stood deciding how much space this tragedy demanded.  Too many witnesses increase the shame.

I wondered how many days it would take each of them to find their way back.  Or had they lost the sight of it for good?  When bearings are lost along the way, it’s harder to recover.  I looked out of the window again.  The mother was gone.  So was her son’s SUV.  I sat back down and returned to work.

“In the Name of Justice. In the Name of Fun. In the Name of the Father. In the Name of the Son.”

A native couple is cooing by the window.

Polish has always echoed of my native tongue, but with more softened corners of our consonants.  And even if it flies out in a loud form — like from the disgruntled clerk at Warsaw’s Central Station who hollered at the group of passengers that included my old man (that bitch whose Soviet-inspired perm I could’ve easily clawed out if it weren’t for the plexiglass between us!) — this language still flows and gurgles the prettiest, for my ears.  Within this week, Polish has become my path to lullabies; and now, I wish to learn it, so that I could always murmur its fairytales to my own sleepy firstborn.

Case in point:  The lovebirds with whom I’m sharing this train car for the duration of the 7-hour ride from Gdansk to Warsaw — are quite quickly putting me to sleep after our first ten minutes together.  Although I’m certain that the last three days of restless sleep that came from my fear of closing my eyes (so that I wouldn’t stop memorizing my father’s face, after a decade of our living in opposite hemispheres) have something to do with it, too.  But during this entire trip through Eastern Europe, I have been thoroughly calmed into surrender by the trustworthy national temperament of the Poles.  No other peoples I have ever encountered possess this much gentleness and grace (the Soviet-trained witch at the bus station who dared threatening my father’s dignity — is obviously excluded from this statement).

It is as if after centuries of oppression by every egomaniac who found this lovely country as the perfect place to start a war or their conquest of the world — after unthinkable tragedies the human race thought up and then imposed on these kind people — the good gods of this land have finally decided to protect them from all strife, until the next apocalypse that ends our civilization all together.  As far as the Poles go, I think that they have suffered enough to possibly reach their nation’s limits of paid dues.

It must be why for days and miles (oops, sorry:  kilometers) by now, I haven’t seen an unattractive native.  The kiddos are doll-like, with their giant eyes and smooth foreheads inside the halos of colorful scarves and fur-trimmed hoods of coats:  The beauty of their future generation must be the reward for all that suffering.  The women are mesmerizing with their luminous faces (without make-up, in most cases) and those Slavic cheekbones carved out of marble by Michelangelo himself (for surely, that guy must be god’s personal architect, these days).  The leftovers of the kitschy Soviet fashion are still occasionally noticeable on Warsaw’s streets:  in leopard colored fur coats and hair beehives set into unmovable mounts with sparkly hairspray, a tooth comb a curling iron.  And then, there are those women who suffer from the universal ailment of unhappy marriages and miserable living standards (those women age so fast!).  Also, a few have fallen victim to the mass fad of perpetual smoking (although the young are still not showing the consequences of it).  But for the most part, in their beauty, these women — are exceptional!

As for the Polish men, thus far I’ve found them wonderfully well-mannered, educated and non-aggressive.  Like this specimen still cooing at his lovely in my train car:  Incredibly gentle to the point of being effeminate, he keeps telling her the history of every local sight and landscape that we have passed behind our giant windows.  At one point, he gets up, adjusts his tweed jacket (while being childlike and a little nerdy in his gestures); and then reveals two homemade sandwiches (oops, sorry:  buterbrods) out of his shiny brown leather attache case.  When he starts talking on his cellphone to confirm the schedule of their connecting train, he sounds exceedingly polite and almost bitchy.  She giggles and looks at him sheepishly when he cuts off the customer service rep with his blade-like sarcasm.  He looks back at her, now encouraged and twice the man, and pats the top of her knee.

These lovebirds have been cooing at each other ever since I’ve entered the railroad car.  Between the two of them, she does most of the listening:  With a blissful expression on her face whose only stunning characteristic lies in the constellation of her beauty marks, occasionally she slips in a timid compliment in between his never ending sentences, while he continues lecturing.  He could be easily be an assistant professor or some brilliant history students at the top of his class.  (Um.  Sorry:  faculte.)  And when he delights her with his intellect, she breaks out into a ready laughter, too loud for her demure character.

Of course, were I to have my drathers, I would be sleeping in the dark and in utter silence.  But one:  It is the Eve of the New Year, after all (and the Poles are huge on celebrations — which must have something to do with their generosity, I suspect).  Two:  These kids are perfectly delightful.  But even though they can’t remind me of my younger self (for I have never had a young romance), I always stand defenseless in the name of kindness, if not love.

Besides, I have been softened by the events of this week’s trip.  The best, the smartest and the kindest man of my life — my father — has just departed from the coast of Gdansk:

The man to teach me my self-worth despite our sixteen-year long communication by phone and telepathically shared heartbeat.  The one to always offer help and not keep tabs on my mistakes or moments of helplessness.

The first to show me that power lies in kindness and that in my forgiveness — happens love.

The parent from whom I have inherited my sense of justice and the pursuit of harmony, my reason, generosity, compassion; and the very essence of my spirit — has offered me the best week of my life.

And our reunion just so happened to unfold — on Poland’s graceful land.

“When I Was Just a Little Girl, I Asked My Motha, ‘What Will I Be?'”

She’s wearing a pair of purple tights and a shirt with stripes of lemon and lime.  Her tiny ankle socks match the overall yellowish-green of the shirt, and her feet are trying to wrap around the baby-size chair that used to belong to her younger self (not much younger though, considering she is not even in her teens yet.)

I notice the purple outline around the collar of the shirt:

“Those are some courageous color combos, my tiny one!” I nearly say out loud, but then I stop myself:  Getting off on embarrassing a child would make me a major shithead!

And it’s not even mytype of purple either — but it is hers — as we’d figured out over the years.  But, actually, her favorite color is green, so she often secretly dedicates her purple choices — to me.  Her green is democratic:  She likes most shades of it.  Although, come to think of it, I’ve never really asked.  When ever had I become one of those silly grown-ups — to dare taking these details for granted!

Her most heartbreaking features are her mother’s freckles and her father’s strawberry chin.  From the way the sunlight hits her face, I notice the freckles — they now take up her whole cheeks, from the bridge of the nose and up to the temples; and I suppress a desire to hug her:  She’s all grown up now — and way too mature for my mushy nonsense.  So, I sort of let her dictate the boundaries, on her terms; and keep my grown-up business to myself.

For the last hour, she’s been playing with her father’s iPhone, pulling up songs we both might like.  Some tunes are original.  Others — are a remake by Glee:  all the rave among the kids these days.  (And if it weren’t for her, I would have never known it:  I AM a grown-up, after all!)

Here comes the widely popular tune of this year:  “There’s a fire starting in my heart…”

“Do you like Adele?” she has once asked me before, while hanging out in my bedroom.  It made for a long discussion, that night, and we each took turns browsing YouTube for our favorite tunes and dancing.  Yes, actually dancing:  She, non-vainly, and I — unleashed by her innocence.

“Do you like Adele?” she echos now, looking up at me past her long bangs.

I like the way she wears her hair:  It’s always shiny and sleek, never the tumbleweed seen in the photographs of me when I was her age.

We have both grown up as tomboys:  I, perpetually clad in sweats as soon as I could get out of my itchy uniform, was always trying to outrun the boys and to lead the armies of first-graders in search of treasures on our town’s rooftops.  She — kicks ass at soccer, climbs trees, plays handball; rides bicycles and rollerblades, masterfully and much better than me; and she always looks out for those who are tinier and more helpless.  She is kind.  She is always kind.  For me, kindness, by now, takes discipline.  To her — it’s still second nature.  Or the first.

We’ve grown up under much different restrictions:  I was bound to endless rules by my motha, the pedagogue, and the regulations of bureaucrats that dictated our lives.  She, however, is ruled by common sense.  Like her American-born parents, she is in tune with the concept of freedom and is already more aware of her rights and liberties at the age of ten.  Unlike me, she also knows that choices come with a consequence.

Like this one — of her procrastinating on her homework for the sake keeping me company.

“Set me free, why don’t cha, baby?!” — the girl cast of Glee is now hollering my favorite song.

“Love that song!” I mumble.  But she is already sneaking a peak over her shoulder and suppressing a gleeful smile.  She knows.

Alright!  Enough of the nonsense:  It’s time for the homework!  Or, so the adults tell her.

“Last one!  Last one, I promise!” she says, but doesn’t plead.  She is SO much cooler than me!  Cooler than I’ve ever been!

It’s Glee, again:  “I’m walking on sunshine, wooah!”

In a matter of seconds, she bounces, puts the iPhone away, whips out her backpack and plops down in a chair across the table from me.  When she thinks, she looks away (sometimes chewing on a pencil):  My own childhood habit.  Which dreams is she sizing up, right now?  What brave escapes is she plotting?

Bright and self-sufficient, she completes the work effortlessly, in a matter of minutes.  No problem.  She never gives the grown-ups a problem.  Neither did I.  It’s easier that way:  keeps you clear of their nonsense.

But she does say though:

“I wish eight went into 60 evenly.”

I suppress a chuckle — and another hug.  I still wish for such things all the time, my tiny one!  And that — still! — must be just a matter of my innocence; or what’s left of it.

Juliette Binoche

“Where Are You Going, My Little One, Little One?”

It was her skirt that I noticed first:  one of those floor-length gypsy numbers, with wide parallel stripes of different colors all best found on a yarn of some baby blanket, or in a pack of dyes for Easter eggs.  The skirt looked vintage and slightly tattered at the bottom where it touched the ground.  It may have been a tidbit too long for her, but she strutted in it well.

She wore a simple gray turtleneck on top and from a few times I saw the toes of her Uggs peak out from underneath the skirt, they too — were bluish-gray.  The tossed waves of her strawberry blond hair ran down the back of that sweater.  I wondered if she had freckles, like girls with such hair often do.  I wondered if she was prone to blush a lot; and when she slept, I bet she could disarm the world’s most ruthless villains and defeat her mother’s monsters.

I slowed down.

Her three brothers were walking a few steps behind her.  The oldest one could not have been older than five.  But the boys were already of that age when they understood that no matter how much younger she may have been, hers would be the last word, in the family.  To them, it was still child’s play and video games; but she already knew how to stand-in, when mom was busy.  And I imagined she had a stool that was brought out every night, into the kitchen — specifically for her; and there she stood, becoming a woman as she adoringly studied her mother’s cooking.

A couple of times she turned to look at the young boys, checking if all three were still in tow.  If one was walking too close to the road or climbing up a dirty hill, he would immediately get back into a safer place.  But she’d keep walking ahead, a few steps behind her mother — a tall, lean woman with the gypsy-girl’s hair and the strut that her daughter was trying on these days.  (These would be the privileged days still, I hoped her mother knew; the days when in her little daughter’s eyes, she was still her deity.)

Truth be told, I could never pull off the little girl’s style.  I wear skirts like that, for sure.  But to double them up with a sweater was more like what those cool hippie chicks would wear, in the vicinity of NYU.  Her hair was messy, but not from a lack of care.  I wondered if she had just began to learn the lengths and hairstyles she liked the most and wearing hair ties around her tiny wrists.  In the manner of her mother, she’d learned already how to tie her hair back with lightening speed, in moment ready for play or bedtime.

I’m not the one to walk around here much; and I would prefer to never park in these alleys late at night.  There used be a giant homeless man who lived here, sleeping always in the same spot — along the gray wall of some sound stage; and he would guard these streets.  Like everyone in Hollywood, he had his own story; and that story had to do with broken family, a quick rise to fame, then loss of everything — and after that, survival.  So many times, he’d been arrested and led away, only to reappear at his same spot a few days later. With him, standing in dark corners or sitting on the curbs, I somehow felt protected.  But now, he’s gone; with nothing but a vigil by his wall.

The girl began to let her brothers pass her.  Her mother had, by now, located the family’s silver van, and she opened the door on the passenger side, closer to the curb.  The boys took their time conquering the vehicle.

The tiny gypsy-child looked around — and then, she let out a twirl!  Just one 360-degree twirl!  It was the same move I’d seen girls do in their brand new dresses, often times around other girls or when dancing at a wedding.  And while they turn their feet in one place, they lose themselves in the fabric rising underneath their eyes.  They still see magic.  To them, the world is still extraordinary.

She finished twirling, gathered her loose locks again, and threw them over the right shoulder.  That’s when she noticed me, smiling.

She gave me an askance look:  That was twirl was meant to be between her and her imagination only!

I got embarrassed, but even as I lowered my eyes and sped up to my own car, parked on the other side of the street from the silver van, I kept her image living underneath my eyelids.

She was a girl on the verge of growing out of her childhood.  But how I prayed that some of it — would never leave completely!

“Ah, Gur-url! (Inhale.) Girl, Gur-url!”

“There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom.  The rest is merely gossip, and the tales for other times.” —

Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm 

He was young — oh, so young! — but not convoluted at all, which is a rarity in itself.  He sat with his body turned toward me at a 45-degree angle, playing with the ice cubes on the bottom of his tall glass; but never letting go of me, with his eyes.

“What are you drinking?” he started up.  I could feel it with my skin cells:  The kid was NOT into chatter much.  He actually wanted to know.

“Um,” I chuckled and looked at my ice-less glass.  “Tomato juice.”

And I nodded.  I am not a barfly, mostly for that very same reason:  I don’t drink.  So, I nodded while bracing myself for the irony some tipsy idiot was about to point out.

The kid picked-up my glass and he sniffed it.

That scene!  It reminded me of that scene, in a quirky film about doomed love:  She asks him for a piece of chicken, and without his answer, takes it.  Just like that!  She reaches over and takes a chicken leg from his paper plate; and he is immediately disarmed at her lack of pretense and the intimacy at which he’d had to do no work, whatsoever.

The kid put down my glass, exactly into the water ring it had marked on my bev nap earlier.  Then, he nodded and pouted with his lower lip:

“That’s cool!” he said, without showing me his version of a deprecating smirk.

My self-defense was unnecessary, here; and all the jokes at my own expense popped, like soap bubbles on a child’s palm.

I had been approached by men at bars before (and I had been approached by women, as well).  Most of the time, with their courage slightly loosened by liquor, they negotiate their desire immediately.  But they’re never drunk enough to say it bluntly:

“I want your sex,” for instance.

Or:

“I just want to fuck around, for bit.  Is that okay?”

Instead, they loom, while flirting clumsily and waiting for me to bite the bait.  It’s amusing, most of the time, to observe the habit of other people to get in their own way.  (It’s also the reason I don’t drink:  I like to watch, instead.  That; and the fact that my sober tendencies of getting in MY own way — are already quite sufficient; and I needn’t be drunk to get a clearer look at myself.)

Soon enough though, the men get distracted:  Their drunken charm refuses to work on me.  What they don’t realize is that their honesty might’ve gotten them a lot more.

Eventually, they move on though — to someone easier, I suppose.  But while they loom, my drunken courtiers sneak peaks at other barflies — and butterflies — with whom their charm wouldn’t happen in vain.  They’re always pretty, those other girls, and more willing, perhaps.  So, I let the men move on quickly:

“Go loom elsewhere, honey.  It’s okay.  Really.”

But this kid:  He was different.  He would study the other women openly, and sometimes, at my own direction.

“SHE — is gorgeous!” I’d mutter into my thin straw; and so, he would look, in silence.

What was he looking at, I would wonder?  Was it the silky shimmer of her brown shoulders?  Was it the beauty mark revealed by a backless dress?  The curvature of her rear?  The endlessness of her naked legs leading up to heaven?

What was it like to be so young — and to want so much?  

So, he would look at the other women, but then return to me — always.  He was one of those:  The type that tended to hit things right on the nose.  He would ask me questions that would make me shift in my seat; and under his examination, I, too, began studying the girl in a wraparound dress with no underwear lines, anywhere along her body.  I was studying — me.

I surprised myself when I asked him about his mother.  I could feel her, distances away, praying that her son was under the care of only good people.  Only good women.  She would have a confident face, I imagined, just like her son’s:  With no ticks to betray her habit of getting in her own way.  I couldn’t possibly know the extent of her courage yet; what it was like to let her child leave her watch.  But I was pretty sure that if I were a mother, I too would hope — and I too would pray! — for the goodness of other people.  Of other good women.

He spoke of her willingly.  It was unlikely for a young man to be aware of the sacrifice a mother must make.  But this kid — this young man — understood the courage of a woman’s heart:  The courage it took — to be a good one!

“I’m not sure what it is…” he would say to me later.  “I’m not sure what it is — about you.”

His hands would be steady:  They knew the common crevices along a woman’s body; but he had yet to learn the specificity of mine.

“It’s just sex,” I’d tell him, “and that’s okay.  Really.” And I would cradle his head, brush his hair and soothe his eyelids.

He was under a care of one good woman.  And the good woman, waiting, praying for him from distances away, had absolutely nothing to worry about, that night.

“Here Comes the Sun, Little Darlin’. Here — Comes the Sun.”

The hospital walls were the color of…

I don’t know.  How does anybody ever manage to remember the color of these walls?

One of the walls appears missing entirely:  Instead it is taken up by a giant window, with a hideous air-conditioning unit directly underneath it.  They don’t build windows like that on the East Coast.  Everything must be larger in the West: More land, wider roads; bigger closets and endless windows — windows from which we gaze upon the same vast land and highways that carry us along the coast, to and away from love, in a never-ending act of our indecisiveness about solitude.

In Vermont, there are houses with porches and hammocks; and in those houses, the window are unhinged, then flung open, into the idillic streets, best colored during Indian Summer.  In Maine, the window panes collect moisture, balancing out the difference between the temperatures with precipitation and moss.  In New York, one can always find a jammed window, or a broken one; and often, there is some lever one must work, in order to let in some fresh air.

I’m staring out of the giant hole in the wall, with sliding glass, into the desolate desert landscape with gray domes of industrial buildings and rare traffic.  I can see the packed parking lot of the hospital on the ground floor, and judging by the way people leap out of their cars, once they find a spot, I can tell the status of their beloved’s health.  The worst cases pull up directly to the curb.  Others choose to ride in an ambulance.

I see the disheveled head of a woman clutching a baby blanket being helped out of the red swinging doors.  She is being lifted by two men in uniforms; and once on the ground, one of them must remind her how to walk.

I look away:  Dear God!  I think I’m starting to run out of prayers.

On the horizon — gray mountains.  They are always gray, on this side, and only in the deepest winter do their peaks adopt a different shade:  of stark-white snow.  I think of the East, again.  The mountains aren’t mountains out there:  They’re hills.

Everything must be larger, in the West. And I’m one of those travelers, speeding along its wider roads, in a never-ending act of my indecisiveness about solitude:  chasing, then running away from love — then, coming back for more.

The beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine brings me back into the room.  I am alone here.  Well, no:  She is here too.  But I’m not sure if her Here is in the same vicinity as mine.  The doctors have managed to bring her back from wherever that is a broken heart takes its victims:  They have struggled to bring her back Here, through a series of shots and shocks and tricks of the trade.

So, now she is back Here; but I know her Here — is nowhere near.  It’s a different space entirely — a different Here where I, despite my conflicts with love, do not yet wish to be.

The doctors have spoken of Hope.

“Here is still some,” they say; and because they don’t avert their eyes, I wonder how many times they’ve had to say this — just today.

And how are they going to say it again to the disheveled mother who’s forgotten how to walk?

I come up to her bed.  Her skin is ashen.  I’ve never seen this color on the living before:  It’s yellowish-blue, sickly and wax-like.  It juxtaposes against all other shades with defeated sadness.  So, the fuchsia pink of her pedicured toenails peaking out from under the sheet loses all vividness.  The acrylic nails on her fingers, of the same shade, now have an appearance of props.

I remember she used to snap them against each other, when laughing herself to tears while telling a joke.  She was good at jokes.  And in my memory, that hollow sound of snapping nails has come to mean her good moods.

The beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine brings me back into the room:  Again!  It reminds me of the rhythm her broken heart is forced to take on, in order to stay Here.  Is this — the sound of Hope?  This slow, mathematically precise beat of an intelligent machine that, despite its act of mercy, does not possess the sensitivity to understand?

Her body has left this Here:  The Here of the Living!  She doesn’t want to be Here, anymore!  And it is a terrible thought; and I cannot bring myself to say it out loud, in front the drooping face of her mourning husband.

I stand by her bed and study her face.  It’s not peaceful, as my useless novels have promised.  She looks perplexed, and I find myself fixated on the faded outline of her lipstick.  I want to wipe it off for her:  She would have wanted dignity, while — and if — she is still Here.  She is a woman with no heartbeat but perfectly manicured nails.  I think of paging the nurse.

The tubes, running to and from her wrists, fascinate me with their width.  I follow them with their eyes, up to the beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine.  I study the monitor.

What was I looking for?

I return to her face, looking for answers.  A tiny tear, that has formed at an outer corner of her right eye, begins crawling across her temple.

“Are you here?” I whisper and grab her hand.

But I have never felt that temperature on the living before.

Not Here.

“All the Lonely People: Where DO They All Come From?”

She always comes in here, right around this time (which probably says a lot about her, and the same — about me).

And when she appears — she is impossible not to notice.

You can tell a lot by the way a person enters through the door. Some come in with certainty, as if they own the joint.  Some have indeed been here before:  They call out to the sleepy cashiers or the slightly baffled manager, and the rest of us are meant to take notice of the commotion they’ve created.  Others slip in quietly:  They tread their ground with no presumption; and I would like to think they spend their days causing the least amount of damage, in the world.

Local young couples come in here, to play out yet another day in the perseverance of their love.  It’s them against the harsh world — together.  Them — against us!  And I don’t blame them:  Togetherness — is hard enough.  So, I watch them seeking refuge in each other’s company, because they still haven’t lost their love’s ability to hear — to receive each other — completely.  They still haven’t taken the privilege of their intimacy for granted.  Lucky kids!

Other times, this is the place for friends:  buds and girlfriends, best friends.  And they vent to each other about the little injustices in their relationships and lives; and expect alliances from the people at the other end of the table.

But she always comes in here alone, right around the same time. It is her voice that I hear first:  It sounds like baby-talk that comes from a child who’s having a hard time growing up.  I’ve often heard that voice from children with newly born siblings.  They aren’t ready to share their parents’ love yet, and they still cannot comprehend where their self-importance has gone.  So, they regress, even if only in their voices.  And that’s exactly how she sounds.

Her clothes are simple, most likely begotten from a thrift store:  A pair of loose jeans of no particular label and a long-sleeved crew neck sweater of pastel color.  She wears thick, beige socks around her perpetually swollen ankles and a pair of nursing shoes.  It’s not that she appears poor, just not well-off.  And for that, the rest of the joint finds her at fault.

Or maybe, it’s her face:  Something is not right with it.  Her brown skin is deeply lined, although there is an overall puffiness on her cheekbones, forehead and neck; and under her eyes.  The distance between her ears and chin has collapsed due to her absent teeth; so, she protrudes the lower jaw and smacks her lips a lot.  The eyes are bulging and big, striking in the lightness of their hazel color.  They make you lower your own gaze when confronted with hers.  They are fully present, no matter how far and how long her mind appears to have been gone, by now.

“Can I sit here?” she’ll say, in that baby voice, asking for a group of girlfriends to move their purses from the chairs at the table she prefers.

That table is the worst!  It’s right by the door, in the outer row, with the draft hitting her from both the outside and the overhead vents.  When sitting there, there is no way she wouldn’t get in the way of people, coming over for their refills of coffee and water; and I’ve seen a few act discombobulated by her positioning.  But she is sitting right by the door, as if already apologizing for not fitting in here. And before we notice — she will be gone.

The girls always act rushed when they move their bags, and they get uncomfortably silent once she finally sits down.

“Can I have some ice for my drink?” she’ll ask the Mexican fry cook, from behind the glass counter.

It’ll take a few tries to notice her:  She is tiny, plus, she’s got that baby voice on her.  And sometimes, if the kid at the fry station is new, he cannot understand her while he studies her face with embarrassment.

And I suspect it is her face:  We all get stuck on it a little.  Something is not right — with her face.

She’ll then sit down quietly and eat her meal so methodically she betrays her lack of family and money.  Only the people that have known poverty eat like that.  And I wish to apologize to her — for all of that pain and injustice; and for the shunned reactions of others.  They think if something isn’t right with her face — something must be not right with her.

But her only fault, really — is the lack of beauty.  She is not exotic, as retired youth has a chance to become.  Neither is she dignified from the excess of money to take care of herself.  She is simple, plain and just a little strange.

She comes and leaves alone; and while completely alone, she starts and finishes her meal.

One of these days, I shall strike up a conversation with her (but only if she’s willing to let go of her loneliness), and we’ll share a meal.  And we may even share a silence.

Because she always comes in here, right around this time, alone; which probably says a lot about her, and the same — about me.

The Way to YOUR Heart — is Through HIS Stomach

Me:  this morning, mildly disheveled, getting ready to leave his crib:

“What should I write about today?” 

Him:  stretched out the couch while watching the news and looking like da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man—every inch of him is proportional perfection:

“You’ve got to teach these women how to cook.”

True that:  As of this morning, we were both suffering from a food hangover from my last night’s cookout. 

When V gets in the mood to cook:  watch out!  First off, there is some list making involved with a KGB-style interrogation of the future guests on their dietary restrictions and preferences.  Then, the research begins.  Besides the modest collection of my own cooking inventions, I consult my gods and goddesses of cooking:  Jamie for a more rustic menu, Martha—when I seek perfection; and Nigella—when I expect to get laid (after the dishes are done). 

Food shopping with me tends to get quite intense for every party involved.  First, I don’t want any tagalongs who’ll set me back by twirling and smelling every sale item on display at Whole Foods.  I deal with my list—while you shut up and carry the basket!  I march through the store, with my hair yanked back into a brutal bun and a permanent frown similar to the one on the forehead of a heart surgeon.  Then, I proceed to cross-examine the clerks about the best of the best of their produce.  I read the labels in the aisles while continuing to frown, which prevents all commission-crazed sales staff from chatting me up.  I do lighten up a bit when surrendering my money to the cashier:  A few flippant remarks and self-deprecating jokes—and I feel like I’ve reached my daily quota of niceness.  As soon as my trunk is loaded, however, I am back to the Amazon-on-Wheels Act, honking my way through the parking lot and speeding off to my sparkling clean kitchen.

The actual process of cooking—is like perpetual foreplay, as if life itself were my lover.  It begins with stretching some skimpy clothes over my body, leaving the arms exposed and the legs—stark naked.  I prefer some Nina Simone moaning and grunting in the background, waking my empathetic heart and disturbing the hormonal balance in my ovaries.  A lit candle or two in my work area—is a must.  Then, I begin unloading my shopping bags; and my curiosity with substances is awakened.  Now is the time to sniff and lick and twirl and measure and exclaim laconic odes of gratitude—for the abundance and the time to enjoy it; for the company and the very process.  Here, barefoot in the kitchen, I summon the voices of my gods and goddesses again; study their notes—and leap into a two-to-three hour improvisation.

What happens to my guests?  They are ordered “to chill.”  Sometimes, I jam a glass of wine into their palms, or a platter of hors d’oeuvres worthy of a Dionysian feast.  The main thing:  is to stay in my vicinity—but away from my stove.  Never do I demand another pair of helping hands because they’ll just fuck with my shit, already in various degrees of steaming and roasting and sizzling and baking.  But my lucky beneficiaries are guaranteed to be entertained as I leap and slide between the sink and the fridge, break out into a few tribal dance moves and stuff their mouths with teases of the upcoming masterpiece dinner.  I demand they continue to speak to me even if I’m muttering like a witch over her cauldron.  Be near me, be yourself, but please don’t help me—that is V’s recipe for every partnership in life.

After years of embracing the Juliette Binoche in Chocolat in my own self, I’ve learned that the last few minutes of the meal-making are crucial.  They are all about timing.  That’s when the combinations are matched into harmonies or flavor dissonances; when the perfect temperatures are hopefully achieved; and—my favorite—when the arrangement of the display happens.  The magic.  The feast for the eyes.  The foreplay via the tongue. 

The secret here, however, is to keep your mind and heart on the guests.  They are the very objects of these generosities in progress; the witnesses with whom you’ve chosen to celebrate your life.  The contradiction in my process, however—is that by then, I prefer to chase them out of my kitchen entirely.  So, I behold them in my mind’s eye:  Is my company a woman of the warmest heart and her 3-year old baby girl?  Is it a friend making a rest stop in between his bouncing all around the world, in search of art, and consequentially—sex?  Is it a beloved boy who’s granted me unconditional space and time in which to recover from a heartbreak?  Or is it a hedonistic girlfriend whose zest for life has yanked me out of many depressions?  They are my chosen people.  My fucking army of survivors and defenders.  All this—is happening for their sake.

So, what I can teach you, my ladies, is that, as every other activity in life, cooking mustn’t be a mundane chore; a weight pulling you under in the listless current of every day responsibilities.  It is up to you to negotiate with your partner—or friends—how and when you prefer to cook.  You can choose to cook on that rare occasion when your heart is overwhelmed with generosity.  Or:  never!  If you absolutely hate cooking—for your man’s, your own, and for fucking god’s sake communicate that!  Don’t turn it into a reason to resent him.  Don’t hold a grudge against your assumed responsibilities as a woman because you’ve never mentioned just how much you hate being in the kitchen.  Because I swear:  It will show in your meal—and ruin your relationship.

But then again, why would you deny yourself the following hedonistic pleasures?