Three dates

1. Rock and a hard place

I am climbing on a rock. I am climbing in Iraq. I am climbing and I rock.

In a crevice in the rock, I find a gun. I find the sacred text and I find the gun.

In a crevice in the rock, I find the sacred text. I find the sacred text and I find the bullets.

As I am climbing on a rock, I hear a ping. A ping not like e-mail, a ping as a bullet hits a rock.

I close my eyes as I am climbing a rock. Both arms pressed against the side, I shuffle up, up, up the crevice wall. I drop the gun. It makes a noise like a tin can home alarm as it bangs against the rock wall. Moments later, the bullets skitter after. Now I have the sacred text, but no gun and no bullet. This is not a good time for me.

Down below I see a man like an elephant. I see his eyes poking out, looking for me, looking for me who is disguised as a rock wall. I am quiet and gray and I try not to push little rocks down the wall to give me away. I try not to hurl the sacred text at the elephant man, with his bulging eyes and his semi-automatic. I push, shove, shimmy up the wall until there is a turn and I am not a straight shot any more, at least for the moment.

I shimmy up and around a corner and come to a mud wall. I run in my gray clothes to the end of the wall and around the corner. It’s been windy all day and the sun is coming down. The city is coated in sand and tinted red with the falling sun. At the end of the street is a scooter with a box strapped onto the back. In the box is a robe, red with gold trim. I grab it and run, through an alley, through another, into a doorway, where I throw off the gray cloak and put on the red robe. My hair is a problem; I wrap it in strips torn from the robe lining. The weather is listening to my prayers. The sun has gone down, the rain has begun. I am safe huddling in a doorway with the dozens of others sitting out the rain, head down, invisible. There is a smell floating over the city – smoke, flesh, sewage, sulphur, ozone, and an occasional smell of cinnamon and orange.

I sleep as it rains, only twenty minutes or so. It is fully dark when I wake; the rain is still coming down but will not last much longer, I think. I pull the red robe over my head and walk into the city streets, where fires spit smoke in the rainy alley ways. I fall in behind a group of men also in red and walk with them in relative anonymity for a few minutes. Then I drop away, another doorway, a few blocks away. This door, I knock on. They open, barely. I hand them the book, and the door is opened.


2. First Kiss


It’s so hot, it’s so hot it’s like dragging my body through warm, smelly mud. I am dragging my body through this air that is thicker than mud. For what? I am asking myself, sliding in my own sweat in the cheap vinyl seats in the oldest city transit bus, no air conditioning, no radio, no cleaning. The seat is black and greasy, with graffiti in multigenerational layers, with a smell of old bodies and baby vomit. The bus is empty today. I stand up behind the driver even though it is empty. I don’t want to sit on the black greasy seats. I don’t want to touch anything. We stop with jerky regularity; the lights in the bus come on, the doors flap open. The door heaves shut with an asthmatic sigh and we continue. The air in the street is as hot and as thick as the air in the bus. I stink.

The door flaps open. The hot tarmac smell mixes with the patchouli perfume of two girls as they board. They board and they sit, halfway back, then move all the way back, where they can giggle and talk, fast but not loud, where they can share lip gloss and look in their bags of goodies. They have glitter, they call their moms on their cell phones. They are at Stephanie’s house, they say. The bus belches the doors open and shut. I can’t hear you, girl one says. Girl two leans forward and chokes on her own laugh. Wait a minute, she says. I’ll call you back. She hangs up and the two girls fall against each other, stick their sleeves in their mouths and laugh uncontrollably. When they sit up, they tug at each other’s shirts, smooth each other’s hair, laugh a little more, and lean their heads together briefly for a small, almost invisible kiss. The door hisses open, and the girls run out the back, bags swinging, waving bye bye to the bus and to their first, hesitant moment together.


3. Biological urges


The biologist asked me in a roundabout way about playing a game of scrabble with him at home. Or going to his mother’s house to make gingerbread cookies and zucchini bread for the fundraiser at their church. Jehovah’s Witness, I think. I saw a stack of Watchtowers in the corner behind the love seat, neatly stacked, not falling down or anything, but quite a lot of them. I said yes, of course, I love to bake and I’d be happy to help your mom with her fundraiser.

At first we worked together awkwardly, in her kitchen with my ingredients, mixing flour and eggs and butter and assorted flavorings. Creaming the sugar and egg together. I wore an apron with a picture of a man in a golf cart, swinging his barbecue gear like clubs. We talked about people in the Hamptons that we might all know, but that didn’t go where we thought it might. I tasted the raw dough. Delicious, I said. His mother handed me a towel to wipe my hands. Well, then, I thought, and I brought up ocean life, the octopus, moonlight on still water and recipes for pomegranate jello. This one hit and we exchanged jello recipes, which led into special events and slid rapidly into bridal showers and brides we have known. Here the biologist started sweating lightly, and I could see him in the future 20 years, with his eyebrows grown in thick and tweedy, still nervously mixing the dry ingredients and looking at the box for instructions regarding eggs, butter and vanilla.

After the cookies are in the oven, the biologist talks about his personal research, social behavior in tarantulas and related arachnids. On this he is more fluent, more relaxed, and he forgets himself momentarily and mixes the second batch with ease. He sits smiling at the kitchen table, drawing spider bodies in the flour and then mashing them gone with little balls of dough. He is very happy, and the cookies come out just right.

“Delicious,” I say. His mother says thank you, and we wash the dishes, and I go home quickly, before this lovely domestic scenario becomes a habit. Thank you, I say, and wave bye bye.



4 Responses to “Three dates”

  1. 1 ctiefel September 25, 2008 at 7:31 am

    The repetition & short sentence structure of #1 are quite nice. Jumpy, emotive.

    #2 my favorite, beign as it makes ordinary strange, & is the most charged of the pieces.

    Spiders in the flour sells #3. Ending section “I go home quickly, before this lovely domestic scenario becomes a habit.” line is wonderful.

  2. 2 Teresa September 25, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Thanks for the feedback – these were quickly drawn, but I felt pretty happy with them. I see a few places to tweak, will probably mess around with them a bit.

  3. 3 Jannie October 4, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Thank God for good (no, great,) writing on the web. Tin can home alarm, the weather is listening to my prayers, jerky regularity, the bus doors belching and their asthmatic sigh. Jello recipes? Molds and such, this one intrigues me.

    Thank you.


  4. 4 Teresa October 6, 2008 at 6:51 am

    Thanks mightily, Jannie. Liked your I need a man with a chainsaw , too. You find him, send him on over. Just for loaners, of course.

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