It’s Feb. 1 and the garden is still beneath a coat of snow criss-crossed with footprints and pocked by various tree droppings. Even the roof, bathed in sunlight, still has snow and ice on it. In the summer, there were tremendous spiderwebs spanning the eaves with huge, voracious spiders and these webs have been replaced by lengthening icicles. Winter’s lock remains and the heating system creaks and groans.
A thing to look forward to today: my new phone arrived at the destination sort facility at 6:28 AM this morning and a man in a blue uniform will deliver it to me by noon. It says so on the tracking page and I believe it.
Let me tell you something I don’t believe: Susannah Fontaine-Williams does not love me although she says she does. She’s too practical for love and I’m just someone who can knock down 18 year old Scotch Whisky with her dram by dram and throw her pithy phrases that sometimes ends up on her show, the fourth most-watched afternoon talk show in the land.
She has the most amazing extra-dimensional bag and it’s gotten her into several kinds of trouble. It all started when we were on Canal Street looking for knockoffs and a man led her into a narrow shop with bags hanging from the walls and ceilings like cave bats and piled everywhere on the floor. You waded more than walked through this place.
“I need a bag that will hold a lot,” she told the man. “But isn’t very big.”
He pointed to the knockoffs and SFW held them, appraised them, hoisted them onto her spaghetti-strapped shoulder and shook her head no. No. “Too big. Too heavy.”
She took my hand and we looked at each other and laughed and walked out of the store.
The man said, “Wait. Come with me. I show you something special.”
He led us to the back of the cave to a door covered with dusty bags and found the knob beneath the faux leather. We walked onto a creaky, wooden stairway. Bare fluorescent bulbs hung every few feet so where we hoped for and expected a puddle of dark, we were instead treated to blue-white light. After 27 steps, one of which had an nail sticking straight up (“nail, watch out), we landed in the basement, a big, neat, mostly empty space.
“My workshop,” he said.
At the far end was a metal desk under exposed fluorescent tubes. On it sat a single bag.
“That doesn’t look like it would hold very much,” SFW said.
The man smiled and handed her the bag. SFW dutifully put it on her shoulder.
”The straps are too short.”
“Put your hands on strap and lightly pull,” and as she did the straps lengthened.
“Now, put something in the bag, your wallet…”
SFW pulled out her wallet, a bulky thing weighted down and fattened with credit cards, slips of paper, loose change and lots of cash. She always carried too much cash.
“It will take up the entire bag,” she said.
“Put in everything else you have with you now. Except nothing electronic.”
She piled in a notebook, a few loose pens, a makeup kit, a toothbrush…”
“You carry a toothbrush?” I said.
It all fit. I looked in the bag and it was black inside, dark, although a bright light was shining directly over it. I reached in and felt around for her wallet and pulled it out. “Huh.”
“For you, $1500.”
“Too much for a knockoff.”
“Not a knockoff. This is one of a kind. A prototype.”
He gestured to his workbench with his neatly organized tools and implements and tubes.
”Tell you what. I like you. I watch your show. You take it with you, try it for a few days. If you still want it, buy it. If not, just give it back. No charge for trying it out.”
She looked over at me.
“Why not?” I said, not realizing that that question would be answered soon enough.
“Remember,” the shopkeeper said. “Nothing electronic.”
“Well, where do I put my phone?”
“Outside pocket. Always in the outside pocket.”
…to be continued.
Fix the errors in “Get your hands of my chair young man.”
The second woman on the bus is now a younger woman, maybe in her twenties, and she’s in a wheelchair because her legs have been blown off at the knees by a bomb in a train station. She’s the only one who survived. She’s on her way to the TV studio to be interviewed. The host, the collagen-lipped Susannah Fontaine-Williams, is going to surprise her with a new Chevrolet Malibu equipped with hand controls so she can drive it. The audience whoop and rhythmically clap.
Then Susannah Fontaine-Williams announces that they have an even bigger surprise in store for our young hero. The lights dim and a video of the woman’s boyfriend displays while inspiring patriotic music plays. “And here on special leave to share your special day, Lieutenant George Michael W…” and rising up through a platform in the floor through a fog of dry ice is her longtime boyfriend. The Lieutenant is a soldier stationed somewhere in a dangerous part of the world. He too is a bombing survivor. He still has his legs but his hearing has been damaged. In a moment, Susannah Fontaine-Williams is going to present him with a state of the art ear implant and the resulting thundering audience applause overtake the pair who break down and weep.
The damaged young bombing survivor cum celebrity glimpsed Rose as the bus rolled away from the bus stop. She caught Rose’s eye and smiled politely. She hoped the interview will be over quickly and thought about how she’ll spend the check for appearing.
The bus pulled up for Rose at the corner of Columbus and 75th. The driver extended the ramp and she haltingly pushed forward to get over the edge of the ramp and grab a handrail inside the bus. It was slow going. She felt her chair nudge forward and turned her head around to see a man giving her a helpful push.
“Get your hands of my chair young man.” She said. “No one asked for your help.”
“Sorry,” he said and backed away from the chair.
“You have no right to just push someone like that.”
She resumed jerking her way forward finally managing to round the bend past the driver, turn the chair face forward and parallel park herself into the space vacated by the seats that had been turned up for her. The driver strapped her wheel in. She adjusted her hat and sighed.
With her hands in her lap, she waved an arthritic finger at the helpful man as he walked by. When he’d passed her, she smiled, adjusted her summer hat, a straw thing with a wide brim that hid her thin hair and the bald spot that had made camp atop her head several years ago and would not leave.
The bus moved forward and she noticed the woman sitting across the aisle, also in a wheel chair, also with a hat, although hers was white.
“I hate when people do that,” the woman said.
“It doesn’t like you’d need a boost with that thing,” Rose said with a nod toward the woman’s chair.
It was a beautiful chair, with smaller wheels than Rose’s, pneumatic tires, a thick, padded seat with a head rest and joystick controls – a lovely, motorized chair. “I know you. Aren’t you…,” Rose started to say, then looked the other way out the window.
Here we have these notes jotted down in a notebook six and one half years ago. I typed the notes into a word doc on June 1, 2007 presumably to flesh out a story. I remember the incident – the old woman with the funky hat rolling on the bus and the young man who pushed her (me, not so young) and the reproachful look she gave me. The notes end there and though I can recall the moment I don’t remember if the other woman an old friend, someone who stole a lover, or someone famous she recognized.
No matter. They sit in their wheelchairs on a bus on Columbus Avenue heading downtown in 2007 at the beginning of a conversation in an unfinished barely begins story waiting for the words that form their thoughts and construct their sentences and drive their actions.
To the McKelveys,
You’ve been our closest, dearest friends for as long as we can remember. Some of the happiest times of our lives have been spent in your company and I think I speak for Bob as well when I say that just about every happy memory of our adult lives has been shared with you.
We love you as we love our own flesh and blood family, and if it came right down to it, you might be the only people we would pull into a life raft ahead of our own offspring. You’ve always been there in our time of need. When I needed a kidney, you, Helen, gave me one of yours (thank you so much, it’s working perfectly!). When Bob lost all of our money in the Madoff scheme, the two of you paid our mortgage until we got back on our feet.
I think you know how we feel about you, but in case you didn’t, Bob and I wanted to make sure to put it down on paper.
As you know, each year we drop one of our couple friends – a tradition that goes back well over thirty years now. It all started with the Kruzkowiczes, that annoyingly cloying couple, and it just seemed like such a good idea at the time that we “cull the crop” every year. Out with the old and in with the new! It keeps things fresh.
Well, due to the thinning of our corps of friends through our lovely tradition and the usual kinds of attrition, this leaves us with just you as friends. And over the last year, we’ve really come to rely on you since we really have no one else, and you’re so good-natured and generous with redundant organs, we hoped to never come to this point.
But, the Jenkinses were killed in that horrific crash on the cross county, and the Dows retired to Alaska, and – of all the gall – the Dewbys dropped us. Us! Can you believe the horrible things she said at the Polar Opposites Convention? So I’m afraid that leaves just you. I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but tradition is tradition.
To get things rolling we’re rescinding our Thanksgiving invitation and, of course, we won’t be taking the cruise together. Please have Apollo return Bob’s chain saw and I think it only fair that you leave the knitting circle, Helen, since I’m the founder. That leaves just me, so I guess the circle comes to an end as well. I hope it’s OK that I keep using the kidney, but I understand if you want it back. If things were reversed, I might do the same.
All the best,
Bob and Donna
Bob the Flipchart
The argument started in the box – Bob was part of a flipchart 3-pack and he shared space with his two siblings, Miriam and Filbert. Miriam was saying – and he really had no memories of anything before – that life began when flipcharts were bound. Flibert argued that life surely began before that, when the pages that were so integral to flipcharts were first made and cut to size. No memories of anything before the argument…that bothered Bob, but he didn’t as yet know why.
“You’re both wrong,” he said. “Life begins long before we take shape, when we’re just a bunch of wood pulp floating in a vat.”
“If that’s the case,” said Filbert. “Then what about pre wood pulp? Surely there was life.”
“You could make the argument,” said Miriam in her firm voice that Bob realized he found condescending. “That our lives began the moment the tree that became our life-pulp was cut down.”
They all murmured their assent. Personally, Bob didn’t want to think about how the life of a flipchart was dependent on the death of a tree.
Many mystics asserted that flipchart and tree were one, even if only one was conscious at a time. They were all connected in a glorious circle of life. Blah, blah, blah.
“Circle shmircle,” said Filbert. We do not die and become trees. It’s linear. Trees live, then willingly give their lives so that they may become flipcharts.”
“In a way, we’re their afterlife,” Miriam said.
“Which makes this… what, heaven?” said Filbert. Bob was not at all convinced that this wasn’t just a load of hooey to pass the time.
It went on like that for awhile and soon Bob dozed to the soothing sound of his brother’s and sister’s voices.
Eventually, Bob ended up on an easel in a windowless room near an easel with Miriam. Together they looked out on an oval conference table and a whiteboard. Neither of them knew what became of Filbert. Some days the room was bright and filled with people who wrote or drew things on their pages. Bob felt satisfaction in fulfilling his destiny. Most of the time, his pages would be flipped back, revealing a new page. But every so often a page would be torn and taped to a wall, or crumpled and thrown away. It didn’t hurt, but he remembered less with each lost page until he was unaware of anything at all.