I knew when she brought all those apples to the apartment there it would be trouble. She cut into one and apple smell filled the entire place. I was all the way in the bedroom, I was still hooked up, and I smelled that rotten core in the ground smell.
I called out, “Those are rotten. Throw them out. I can’t stand that smell.”
She called back, “But they’re fresh, they’re not rotten at all. Maybe your sense of smell is off.”
“It doesn’t matter if my sense of smell is off or not,” I said. “This is my house. You can’t come in here with apples that smell rotten and just expect me to endure it. I have enough to put up with.”
Fortunately I convinced her that the point was that they smelled terrible to me. But she said, “Just so you know they actually aren’t rotten, and don’t actually smell bad.”
A button presser, that one. And she got mine. My voice, by then, was like a high, dry wail. Does that make sense? A high, dry wail. Babies, newborns, their cries sound all wet. Not mine. It was more like a rattle, sandpaper—frankly there were saliva issues, something I had never even given a moment’s thought. The things we take for granted are astounding, really.
And I said, “Don’t fight with me and I’m not asking.” And I did not like all the emotions inside me, but they were like minnows swarming, flashing and flipping around all the time. Sometimes I’d dream and there they’d still be, like I was looking down into this churning, silver pool. And then in the dream there would be this moment: I would be looking into the pool and suddenly I would realize I was falling, I was going to fall into it, this silver, churning pool, and then I’d wake up. That infernal contraption on the pole would be beeping again, and then there was all that required. That was a whole other story.
But I am not supposed to remembering that. According to the doorman at the revolving door here, another over-familiar type, we let go of all wordly concerns upon entering. “Entering what?” I said, looking up at the frame surrounding this revolving door, a masterpiece of neogothic pomp with all that cast-iron and fenestration, the swollen ovolo-astragal borders, everything dark and heavy, the glass heavy, all the proportions heavy. But then there is no floor, no walls, just this door and the frame around it. “And what kind of place is this?” I said. I am not just one to blindly accept. You lose money that way, for one. And long ago they used to say things like, “You should be married by now, what are you going to do if you can’t find a husband?” And I’d just tell them to mind their own business. And I’d use the g-word. They were so ridiculous, all of them. And yet people honored them and sobbed at their headstones as if they’d been decent people all their lives.
But of course as I’m thinking about all this, there’s the doorman still after me to just go through. And the frame around this door is just enormous, and even the door is enormous, you can’t imagine how you’re going to push through, and everything is so fusty. It would make more sense if there was a theater with this kind of door, and gargoyles jutting from every windowsill.
Now that’s something I remember: shrinking away from the facade at the Chrysler Building because up there were those creatures eyeing me, ready to swoop down and snatch me up. Horrifying, I would call this revolving doorway’s design, if you could call it design. It is worse than neogothic. It’s sort of a neo-mess. Plunked onto the crest of the archway is what looks like a former clock, a giant block of a face with an iron spike for a peak. But at some point someone took the hands out. Vandals, I suppose.
“Just go through,” the doorman said again, as I hesitated. “No one’s coming out, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“I’m not worried about that,” I told him. I explained to him, the way I have to explain to everyone, that it’s just that my shoes are loose so I have to take my time. He smiled at me, a rather patronizing smile I thought, which is when I noticed that even though he was dressed like a fairytale doorman—all those epaulets and gold braid on navy, really quite gaudy, his uniform—that in his face at least he looked like one of those pompous intellectuals that used to divorce their wives in order to marry their graduate students. That big bushy beard, those little pig-eyes, the mama’s-boy flush to his round cheeks. Now that I am in this state, I suppose I can say whatever I want. I can think it, anyway. And now he was looking down at my feet. “Loose shoes,” he said. “I’ve never heard that one before. But take your time. In fact,” he added, kind of laughing at his own joke, “take your time and keep it.”
“You are not funny,” I told him. Why pretend?
Once, long, long, long ago, when some women still wore gloves and hats everywhere they went, I bumped into a woman coming in a revolving door as I was trying to go out. It was at a department store. It’s this revolving door that makes me think of it. I must have been shopping for shoes, or perhaps a spring coat. In those days you had a spring coat and a winter coat, and a raincoat, and an evening coat. There wasn’t all this shapeless parka nonsense you see all these grownups traipsing around in.
But this woman, she was so pushy. One of those pushy women who won’t wait, trying to force her way in the door as I was going out. It is so rude to barge in somewhere without letting someone out first. It is inexcusable. You are supposed to me them out first. So I said, “Please wait your turn,” and I kept going. I held my ground.
But she didn’t back up. Foolish or what, she didn’t budge. And it happened so fast, and somehow, I knocked her over.
Then she was on the ground, an old lady, a grey bony heap. And all the blood! She’d cut her head. She had this tiny head. All these people stood around, looking at me like I was some kind of terrible person. It was awful. But it wasn’t my fault, I know it wasn’t. You have to let people out first, then go in. That’s the rule, or we’d all be crashing into each other every minute.
Isn’t that a wordly concern I have supposedly let go of? Do you have to make a list and then get it authorized? What’s the system here? I would like to ask someone. They have a phone bank with house phones, but if it’s anything like anywhere else they’ll put me on hold for hours. Though I suppose that isn’t really an issue anymore, but I’d just as soon find the beach.
They have cubicles here. You sit here and wait for an intake specialist, and it is just like a stupid hospital, like a lab where they have untrained people doing the sticking, which was always so annoying. “You’ll feel a pinch,” they’d say, and then they’d be troweling underneath your skin. At least there is no music, none of that piped-in mindlessness that is supposed to be soothing. Who thinks of these things? There is only a stack of papers on each desk, maybe bills, maybe statements.
If they try to charge me for this I will protest. “I never asked to come here,” I’ll tell them. And this business about letting go is a crock. Here I am sitting here, luckily I can put my feet up on the chair across from me to help the circulation, and I am thinking, I can’t help it, I am wondering, Who is going to do the bills? I had everything organized. I had all the paperwork in blue files. I had notes everywhere, only blue, and they were coded. I was so proud of coming up with that code myself. But I never told anyone what it all meant. And now what?
Sometimes, so far, I can see down. It feels like down. It could be up or to one side or another for all I know, everything seems so upside-whichaway. But it feels like down. And I get a glimpse of the dining room table, and the kitchen. There are paper towels all over the place, they are like fallen leaves all over the floor. And someone, I won’t say who, has now taken to leaving fruit in bowls. More apples. Which I can still smell. They are miles away from the refrigerator. And there is rot, unrefrigerated decay, browning pulp.
That was months ago, the apple thing, probably in the fall, since she tended to make seasons into some kind of food thing, always going on and on about seasonal foods like it was some kind of new invention. And I remember it was chilly then. Every once in a while someone would forget to keep the windows closed and that cold air would come rushing in bearing who knows what. But my sense of time is beginning to evaporate: the past, the present, just kind of swirling together. And who knows what you’d call a future here: the Long Float?
I tell the intake guy, this nondescript guy with nice eyes, maybe Irish, that I still smell the apples. “It is not a good smell,” I explain. I ask him, “Isn’t that a wordly concern? Why am I still thinking about the mistakes on the bank statement?”
He says, “Go see that one over there and she’ll help you sort it all out.”
“That one over there to which you are referring is an apparition in white gauze with a cape,” I say to him.
“Wings,” he says offhandedly as he checks off some boxes next to my name.
“I don’t believe in wings,” I tell him. “The whole concept is a ridiculously antique idea designed to convince foolish people to give up all their money to churches.”
He says, “And we have a pamphlet for that.” He reaches up into the cubby and hands me a piece of paper folded in thirds, just like an old-fashioned mimeograph copy. Remember the purple letters, the typewriter look to it all, the smudges? You’d roll the drum by hand—gu-guh, gu-guh—and the pages had that inky smell. And even though the paper is folded in thirds, it’s just one unbroken block of text all over the page. Again, I am sensing a lack of good management, but read it anyway:
The concept of the angel may be baroque but is not a construct. Is within us, something ingrained in us, the hypothalamus of our collective emotional aesthetic regarding loss, what Pablo Cohen called the angela-schammer-schaftenaufweidersein (L.V. 1921) in which we give wings to that which we can no longer access, or possess, let alone understand—a metaphorical adaptation if you will. Consider within that context the possibility that haloes were not meant to convey upward essence, but in a covert sense act to “weigh down” the uprisen, suggesting the weight of bronze and gold (please refer to your copy of Jansen’s Picture History of Art, page 57, the original printing, the one you have in your bookscase on the third shelf from the top, not the new and revised version you bought in the museum bookstore the day before the blizzard they’d predicted, when you realized the children were going to be stuck in the house and they might wind up drawing all over the color plates).
The intake man points up at his own head, and I see now that it’s crowned with a halo, one of those heavy gilded things, like a cut-out halo for a school play. He leans forward confidentially and whispers, “The truth is, I just an’t get it off. I’ve tried everything.”
“And who the heck is Pablo Cohen?” I want to know.
He scratches at his halo thing. He has a nice profile, this one. He has a bit of a Portugese fisherman thing going on, some extra meat over the bridge of his nose. It would be interesting to sketch if I were 21 and back in art school.
“If I have to wear one of those things,” I say, “I’d prefer white gold, something unlike bronze and certainly not garish, something in keeping with my own religion, which is modernism.”
I’ve got his attention.
“Instead of organized religion,” I say, “they should have had organized architecture, organized art. We would have had way fewer wars. Have you heard of modernism? It does not just live in museums. Modernism is a decision. It is a choice. I always asked the nurses for blue or gray socks instead of beige. They were always telling me, ‘But lady, people like earth tones.’ ‘Don’t lady me,’ I’d say, ‘and please bring gray socks.’ People have this idea about earth tones.”
To my surprise he nods. He crooks a hand. He says, “I hate earth tones.”
One remembers little hooks. Snags on little moments. My neighbor’s daughter was once stung by a wasp and there was nothing we could do about it, she just stood in the street and cried her head off. That was when I realized I could live in a town no longer, please give me concrete.
And the flavored coffee that overweening proprietor served us once at a B & B in Tucson. Imagine drinking coffee all fussed up with some fruity scent for breakfast, let alone for any meal at all. “Some things are just not done,” I tried to explain to her. “Coffee has enough of a flavor without berries or mint. It has its own integrity.”
“Would you prefer I make some hazelnut?” was all she could think to say.
She was so confused. Just dim. But to say she suffered from a failure of imagination would be to admit she had an imagination. But since this was Arizona, I suppose I should have cut her a little slack. Really, the things people think are elegant. For instance, florals, these garish awful patterns, which if you are sensitive visually and stare at too long, and if there is that olive-and-scarlet thing going on, which some unwitting middling designer decided was classic, and so there it is, on everything from curtains to toilet seats—
So far, fortunately, there is no chintz here.
I’ve made a few mistakes. It’s probably not a good idea to mix art and food, for instance, though I was always trying. Once, during my time in that town, I made a dinner entirely of blue foods. I used food coloring. Why not? That was before the dangers of chemicals were known, before all sorts of things. And truthfully, I don’t know if all those warnings did any good. I mean look at me. But the blue food thing: I served duck with blueberry sauce. The sauce came out a very, very dark, ashy navy. I served red cabbage, dyed blue. The boiled potatoes came out more like lavender. I was careful to use foods that were already compatible colors to the color blue. Or else the dye would have just turned them black. You couldn’t have served oranges, for instance, or sweet potatoes, which, with blue added, would just come out the color of mud. So many people don’t consider the color wheel when they do things.
The blue food was meant to be like an adventure, something fun, a little domestic conceptual thing to break up the monotony of all those neat streets and houses. I even dyed the milk blue. It came out a lovely shade of periwinkle. But the kids looked down into their milk and said, “Yuck.” I was so surprised. They wouldn’t touch any of it, not even the applesauce, my only non-blue item, which I’d managed to tint a velvety forest green. I guess I had been thinking it would be good to brighten up the blue with another color, but nothing too garish or unsettling or unbalancing.
“No way,” the kids said. I wasn’t going to argue with them. It was meant to be fun.
“I thought you’d like it,” I said to them. “I thought that you’d think it would be like drinking the sky.”
“It looks like it’s from outer space,” they said. “Can we have pizza?”
So maybe they were a little young for a sensibility. There was still time back then. At least they had imagination.
Of course I didn’t even bother pulling out the blue cake. The cake, I’d just made a white cake from a mix and then I used so much blue dye that it came out ultramarine. The frosting was chocolate, but I dyed that black. So it would have scared the kids right out of the house. Instead I just waited until they’d gone to sleep, and then I quietly ate it. I sat in the dining room, looking out the window at the blue moon. The house was silent, a blissful, thick kind of silence. Sitting on the pure white plate, the cake looked magnificent. No one else ever knew.