Markie
 

 

 

 

This work is copyrighted.  Please do not reproduce this work, in whole or in part, without obtaining my written permission.

 

Paul Kafka-Gibbons


 

 

 

                                                               MARKIE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                         Paul Kafka-Gibbons


 

 

                 To Marck Beggs, with love.

 


 

 

 

 

Amid fall's conservative chic is a heady dose of sex appeal, thanks to tight sweaters and slim skirts.  When Eva Herzigova first strode out onto the runway for the recent Blumarine show, she could have been ghost of Lana Turner.  It wasn't just her platinum blonde hair or hourglass figure, but the tight sweater and pencil skirt she wore that recalled Turner's signature style.

     Markie sinks into the recliner in the living room, the all embracing yellow chair beneath the three-bulb lamp.  The heft of the double Vogue speaks to her of life without children and she breathes a deep sigh, half luxury, half remorse.  It is a fine thing to neglect one's loved ones for a moment or two.  It is a fine thing to be near one's husband and babies, and to be idle.  If only she had a pack of Merits.

     Provocative combinations appeared on both New York and European runways in two distinct apparitions for fall:  the vamp, in a close-cut top and slim, shiny skirt (Blumarine and Versus), and the innocent schoolgirl, sporting a softer, prim version that is still body-conscious (Prada, Victor Alfaro, and Miu Miu).  "I like a very groomed, finished look," says Alfaro, "and this is perfect for right now--sexy but ladylike and minimal."

     It pains Markie to let Bruce put Bain and especially Lucy down, while she journeys in her chair.  Pains her sweetly.  She flips.  Donna Ricco dress, black satin, on the flat ass of a girl who resembles Markie's little sister, Kate.  Her hair and complexion all browns and rust reds.  That same tender Kate expression--surprised, always about to be surprised again.  Bain thumps down the length of the hallway overhead in his footsies.  Tympany of freedom, Dad busy with Lucy's bath, Mom out of it, in one of her silences down in the living room.  Flip.

     A nasty, starved twenty-year-old party girl is held without ransom or reason in the thin fiction of a Les Copains ad.  Tweeds and a horse farm.  Flip.  Georgio specs perched on the perfect nose of a model who somehow clearly never wore glasses before in her life.  Flip.

     Haute couture makes its triumphant return to Hollywood at the Oscars.  Sigourney appeared in a gunmetal corset and sweeping ball skirt by Christian Lacroix.  All eyes were on Four Weddings and a Funeral's Kristin Scott Thomas, when she made her triumphal entry in Lacroix's elaborate bright ball gown.

     Markie floats.  If she were dead, Bruce would have to put Bain and Lucy to bed every night.  Lucy cries in a formal way.  Bruce has quick-dried her and suited her up.  He sits by her crib, his arm down the length of her back, elbow by her ear.  Rhetorical flourishes embellish Lucy's wailing.  Don't abandon me, father.  Stay by me this night.  I beg of you.

     Markie squirms, reads.

     Likely to appeal to Tinseltown's style leaders are a Balenciaga-inspired unadorned ball gown, lipstick-pink duchesse satin, or an apple-green and Parma-violet taffeta ball gown.  The other great Oscar dress, worn by Uma and labeled Prada, did not come from Paris.  But the minimalism of the "Prada effect," itself a nod to the chic haute couture and Italian alta mode of the fifties, looms large on the fashion map.  Versions of the ethereal gown showed up at Chanel in beaded violet chiffon, and at Saint Laurent and Valentino.  At Saint Laurent, the white silk jacquard wedding dress was inspired by the masters of Spanish painting.  The simpler pieces--a safari jacket in tobacco silk gabardine and an angular pantsuit--were more stunning still.

     "Bain, choose your book and climb in," Bruce says.  Markie knows Bain is standing directly above her, through the ceiling, hands on hips, lips pouted, right toe forward--as if inspired by the Jacobean tragedists.  Defiant, mournful.  He doesn't really want to get ready for bed alone.  Why doesn't Mommy help?

     Because, Markie reasons upwards, Mommy is punishing Daddy.  Why is Mommy punishing Daddy?  Mommy has no idea, really.  Daddy has been wonderful for a month, give or take a few episodes.  Mommy had a good reason to punish him tonight, though, a subtle one.  Soon it will come to her, and she will be justified in her reclining and flipping.

     Giuliana Teso, tawny furs and lamé pants.  Estée Lauder page--an Ingrid Bergman look-alike, black-and-white in ripe shadow, three-quarters profile, gaze down.  Markie thinks of home movies of her mother on honeymoon out west.  All those suitcases.  Handmade dresses.  Hat boxes.  No money.  The fifties.

     Bain fills the hall with belligerent soprano.  Bruce is silent but Lucy responds immediately, shrills up into her dog-alert frequency range.  Markie really really should go help now.  Bain and Bruce will get themselves into an Oedipal struggle any minute.  It will be an hour before the little murderer will even think about closing his eyes.  Markie feels Bruce's righteousness fill the baby's room, overflow into the hall, stream above Bain's yelling head, roil darkly down the staircase and across the living room to surround Markie's own uncoiffed head.  Fucker.  Always sure he's right.  Of course, right now he is right, though in the broader sense he's wrong.  For the life of her, Markie isn't sure about what.  She's so tired.  Maybe that's why she's right even though she's momentarily wrong, because she's so completely exhausted.  The exhausted one is generally in the right.  Still, Bruce can't leave Lucy, and Bain has got to stop running up and down the hall, screaming his guts out.  It hurts Markie so, not to go upstairs.  She feels Bain's hot hands, his sweaty shoulders through his jamies, as she leads him down to the bathroom to brush his seed pearl teeth.

     There are two sides to every woman, Donna Ricco assures her.  One side is at rest.  One side is in motion.  The at-rest side is prettier, grey cashmere, roundly clinging.  The in motion side is a Channel rip-off in rust crepe-de-chine.  More like motion sickness.  Flip.

     Big hair is back.  Julia Ross interviews Kenneth, the man who first made the bouffant big, and Garren, the young practitioner who has helped bring it back into the limelight.  "The bouf is for everybody," Garren says.  "Little girls, big girls.  You've just got to have the spirit.  You're as big as your hair."

     "Markie?" Bruce asks from the top of the stairs, in the most considerate, most patient, most confused tone imaginable.  "Honey, could you give us a hand?"

 

 

Earlier That Evening

 

Lucy confined to the car pod beside the grocery bags on the kitchen floor.  Bain beneath the piano, performing the Kenny and Wilson show, which airs more or less at NPR times, morning and evening.  Markie on the enclosed patio, reading stories for tomorrow's workshop.

     Bruce creeps up on them all from his minibus stop, and sadness descends on the house as if by black art.

     It is often this way.  Circumstances conspire to lead Bruce to conclude that, as soon as he leaves at seven, the windows of the Edgemoor box house grow dark with sorrow, the floors drink bitter tears, the air is rent with lamentation.  Right up until he comes home and sets the world right again.  Markie, for her part, tries not to worry about Bruce's inevitable false impression.  The man is not her boss.  He's her husband and the father of her children.  Still, when he walks through the door, just once in a while, she would like things to be right.  Her sexy domestic elegant even-tempered self poised beside the gleaming steaming stove.  In the midst of her cluttered wholesome house.  The contented boy playing with a non-imaginary friend, the girl baby developing motor skills in her spider chair, Markie observing her thoughtfully.

     But this is not to be.

     "Hallo-oo!" Bruce calls.

     Markie enters the kitchen like a ghost, mascara streaming past her nose, a green pen and a short story about piercing clasped in wet hands.  Bain, on his back in the living room, weeps and mumbles.  All the lights are off.  When did the sun set?

     Bruce homes in on Bain's noise.  Bruce travels through the house, creating light.  His firstborn has been abandoned beneath the baby grand, in the bulrushes, grasping the same pair of fraying tampons, the Colgate toothbrush, and the gray crayon he's been carrying around for days.  Bain calls all these pointed objects imaginations or rather imabinations.  Each parent has assured the other that she or he did not start this imabinations business.  Markie's slowly dying or perhaps not father suggested a solution to the mystery--an overenthusiastic day care assistant.  A little education theory, Markie's wise and brave dad says, each time he sees his grandson with the longish objects clutched in his hands--is a dangerous thing.

     Bruce carries Bain into the kitchen, where Lucy works her way into her warbly upper register.  She throws sound from the diaphragm, bounces notes off the oven hood, the florescent fixture, sweat beading her forehead, tears bounding from her inflamed cheeks.  Bruce hands Markie Bain, liberates Lucy from the pod.  She gasps for an astonishing interval.  Bruce asks a question to no one in particular.

     "Tough day?"

     Markie ponders this.  She and Lucy shopped at the Supergiant, then collected Bain from Jeff's.  Before that, she and Lucy had a pleasant excursion to the aquatic center, where they made a new friend, a middle-aged Virginia man who seems to spend his life at the pool, soaking his feet in the jacuzzi.  Before that, Lucy had a nap.  Before that Markie lunched with Andrea, whose divorce is still full-time.  Markie can't remember anything before lunch, but knows there were no surprises.

     So why is she crying?  She's not lonely.  She's not not working.  Why, then, is she standing in the kitchen, tears running down her face?  Why didn't she put the milk away when she got home?  Then she remembers one reason, possibly the only reason.

     Her father, first love of her life, is leaving her.

     Lucy lets loose.

 

 

Dinner

    

Gramma's dinner table, square with one leaf lowered, glows as if lit by lantern.  Lucy squeezes linguine through a fist like a pasta-machine.  Bain studies his spoon, spying on invisible shoplifters in the implement's little mirror.  He talks to whomever about whatever.

     "Winhem goes.  Both of them go."  He laughs.  Nods to whomever.  "Whena.  Seea.  Tonna.  Noa."

     Trochees this week, Markie notes.  Last week was National Iamb Week for thirty-two-month-olds.  Thirty-two-month-olds all delivered iambs with a plaintive interrogative lift.

     I-wah?  Ma-mah?  So-weh?

     So forth.  That was last week.  This week was Take-A-Trochee-To-Dinner week.  Take a bunch of trochees to dinner.  Pronounce them with that we're-all-in-the-know-here nod to the invisible circle, all the other two-and-a-half-year-olds composing, somehow, across the nation, voice-mailing each other.

     "Her father's work took her abroad as a kid," Bruce tells Markie, as if they are alone, eating a real dinner on white linen.  "Middle East, China.  I look at her chart.  Christopher."

     Markie stares at him.  Young middle-aged men speak in short declaratives.  Wonka wonka eyong tong.  Like that.  While they eat Pizza Hut because their wives haven't come through on the one simple task that the husbands delegated to them:  that of choosing, procuring, and preparing a simple evening meal.  Markie has temporarily stopped crying.  She is drinking wonderful chianti.  Chianti itself is wonderful.

     "Come on, honey.  Christopher.  Secretary of State."

     Markie nods.  She looks past him.  She looks past all of her intimate ones.  Stares not out, but at, the window.  Winter used to scare her, especially in Boston.  Would her body weather the long season without damage?  She hated black puddles of indeterminate depth.  She dodged around corners to hide from wind that turned corners to find her.  She developed coughs that made her sound like Sancho Panza's donkey, being dragged, braying, along life's stony path.  She stayed in Boston and finished her MFA anyway.  It was when she returned to Maryland at twenty-six that she realized winter in her home state was most appealing and hospitable.  The official Maryland animal could well be the short-haired whippet or another underdressed dog.  There should be a referendum.

     Summers in D.C. pretty well canceled out winters.  Markie's theory was that the federal government was in charge of summer, but states governed the other seasons.  That would explain why, right after Memorial Day, the whole downtown turned into a hazy marble rain forest.  Whereas spring and fall, cherry blossoms and daffodils in the one, leaves and blue sky in the other, were heartening.  Maryland and her sister states could not necessarily take  credit for that.  Spring and fall were heartening throughout North America.  But for winter, Maryland garnered high praise.

     This late January night, for instance, was a gift for the thin-blooded, the inadequately prepared, those who should know better.  The thoughtless ones might all have walked outside together in a sweater.  They would soon have had to come back in again, but they could have walked out the kitchen door to dispose of a pizza box and taken a look around.  Taken a look across the street at the primary colored cars nuzzling the rounded gray cardigan-shouldered curbs.  The lawns, faded denim smoothed by frost, beneath leafless dogwoods and locusts.  They could have admired the new houses' black windows, or lamp or television-lit windows, the new houses themselves like giant gift boxes shipped, complete with furniture, from North Carolina.  Winter in Bethesda, like middle age, arrived for Markie more quietly, more mildly, than she had been led to expect.

     Who's this?  Bruce still talking about his woman patient?  In front of her in the dining room, Lucy to his left, Bain to Markie's right?  Bruce's patients' connections to people who are extremely powerful or newsworthy never cease to fascinate him.  Markie tries to focus on the story of the Christopher girl, but she's not pulling it off.  She looks toward Bruce the way he looks toward her, two or three evenings a week, as if from a certain height.  He comes from the hospital distracted to the point where she wants to bonk him with the soft part of her hand on the hard part of his head, and say, Look, fella, cut that philosopher-on-a-mountaintop far-eyed deep-thoughts shit.  Be here with us.  This is your son, Bain.  This is little Lucy.  You're home now.  Even if you'd rather be back teaching your brilliant residents, or treating high government patients, or out in the desert in a sweat lodge.  You're not.  You're married to me and we've been sleeping together and engendering lo these seven years and now we have these two children and we live in this house, not in a hermit's hut, or day and night in one of the country's top-five medical programs.  Yes, here, with this baby girl and this longish boy--not with your mentor, the most impressive diagnostician you have ever witnessed at work, not with your budding disciples, the young quick-eyed ones, who appreciate you in a way I cannot.  So please please get over it, whatever it is, and look at me when I'm talking to you, or at least when you're talking to me.

     But curiously and only recently, and not at all reluctantly, Markie is learning to be away, herself.  To be home, but also not.  Her recovering or gradually dying father, her tired clever husband, her own indeterminate stage-of-life, her obliterating big little boy and little girl baby, her teaching responsibilities to her eight loyal and four new writing students, seemingly paltry, but quite draining, and her own technically part-time but very politically ramified and highly testing obligation to her publisher in Boston--all these forces are ganging up on her.  Forcing her to live elsewhere.  While she dines here with her family.

     What surprises her is this.  How nice it is, to be away at home sometimes.  How much easier.

 

 

What Bruce Thinks About Markie and Naomi

    

Bruce's brother David told him that, when guys marry, they find the woman most unlike mother and then, after they marry, do everything in their power to turn her into their mother.  They being men in general, not just the two brothers.

     Who could really say what women look for?  Bruce was patently not Markie's dad, Reed.  Reed was a literature professor and could stay at home everyday, all summer and winter, without minding.  Reed had made little money but numerous children, like many post-war Catholic intellectuals.  Bruce was a frantic young Jewish second-generation immigrant doctor son of a cardiologist and a school principal, who needed to be away at work all day or would go nuts, but who nonetheless resented leaving the house every morning.  Bruce and Markie wanted two, maybe three kids--now that they had two, maybe two.  But this section isn't about Reed versus Bruce, money, or kid number.  It's about Markie and Bruce's mom, Naomi, and whether Bruce is trying to turn Markie into Naomi.

     Women are allowed to have moods.  There is an agreement between the sexes in our fin-de-siècle moment that, for whatever reasons, it is particularly hard to be a woman.  It is hard to be a man, too, but that's really just tough shit.  Everyone seems to agree on this point.

     Women live with pressures men know nothing about.  They are expected to lead double or triple lives as primary caretakers, attractive paramours, hard-hitting professionals, third-wave feminist soldiers.  Then there is the body itself.  Men's bodies just break down completely, heart or cancer, after running more or less smoothly for years and years.  Women's bodies are much trickier to maintain starting the day they leave the lot.  They require complicated periodic maintenance, tune-ups, trained mechanics' vigilance.  Women are Jaguars; men are Hondas.

     Now Naomi, Bruce's mom, who lives with Bruce's dad in Detroit, is anti- the whole woman's physio-psychosexual difference thing.  She hails from an earlier school of woman's rights and feels that, if women acknowledge difference, much less any form of fragility, men will exclude, pity, and thoroughly exploit them as they have since Adam.  Plus Naomi is personally just as hard as nails, politics and intellectual fashion aside.  She makes lists and does every item on them.  She goes to bed at twelve-thirty and pops up again at five, Saturdays and Sundays included, like Maggie Thatcher.  Naomi never gets sick.  She had her periods without missing a stride or telling a soul, ditto menopause.  She considers Bruce's sister Leeann a mild disappointment because Leeann sleeps late, makes her husband and children tiptoe all around her one week a month, and cries her eyes out during phone company ads and ER.  Leeann is a normal forty-three-year-old woman.  Naomi runs an entire Hebrew day school; Leeann is only a second-grade teacher.  Naomi does the work of three people, Leeann of one slightly histrionic person.

     Naomi adores and admires her daughter-in-law even though Markie isn't Jewish, even though Markie is an artist.  Markie talks straight and keeps a stiff upper lip.  Markie never shows her moods to her in-laws or her friends.  Only her own mother and father, and her new nuclear family, get the fallout.  Now Reed is dying, which complicates everything.  For one thing, what constitutes a mood under these circumstances?  Markie's father is dying extremely slowly.  Hell, he has a twenty percent chance of not dying at all, as Bruce well knows.  The oncologists always under-project new protocols.  Who can blame them?  Reed's probably got a thirty to forty-percent chance.  Still, his position as one who is probably dying slowly raises all kinds of cheap philosophical questions which delight the old lecturer, such as, Aren't we all really dying?  Is it better to know one's fate in advance?

     And Markie, who has known for almost a year that her father is probably inexorably dying, cries a lot.  Bruce has started to expect her to tumble apart about twice a week, by Thursday if not before, definitely every Sunday--Sundays were never good for her.  At these melt-down times, he takes over and Markie gets to do whatever she wants--not cook, not change her daughter's diapers, not put her son to bed.  Watch three or four days’ worth of General Hospital, which she records, in a single catatonic sitting.  Read Vogue, Glamour, and Elle, which she receives at the medical practice rate two-to-three weeks before the waiting room downtown does.  Also People which she hoards, especially the best and worst dressed issue, for up to a month.  And she gets to listen to gospel singers at revival meeting volume, Mahalia of course, Marion Williams and The Five Blind Boys, in a semi-religious trance.  This is a Sunday activity but she can do it on weekdays.

     Women, Bruce feels, glamorize their own biological clocks, which are life-based and have to do with giving birth before they can no longer imagine going through with the plumbing and aerobics of it.  Women, as a rule, are oblivious to men's much more loudly ticking biological clocks, death-based time bombs which have to do with having children before one drops in the middle of a sidewalk.  So much of men's behavior becomes predictable when one factors in the death clock.  War, treatment of women, sports, monogamy.  But what has all this to do with moods?

     Moods take time.  The kind of moods, at least, that make one stop what one's doing and just be in that mood.  There are moods that don't take time, and men have always enjoyed these--short-temperedness, unreachableness, distractedness.  These are the efficient moods, which create or accompany efficiency.  But dreaminess, tenderness, indulgence--these are moods that can't be rushed.  Women have had the lion's share of these until recently.  It is only since the work and health revolutions that men are truly moody.  Introspective in the afternoon, aglow after five, holy at dawn.

     Did Bruce want

                                                            Markie = -Naomi

during their courtship?  Well, yes.  That is, when Bruce fell in love with Markie, it was partly because she wasn't superhumanly busy, wasn't inscrutably cheerful and endlessly sociable.  Also Markie had little highly sensitive and not at all maternal breasts.  Now that he and Markie have been together seven years, and Markie is slowly starting to take liberties, to have moods--once a week a big one, but almost every day a mood of measurable proportions, anger or gloom--now, Bruce is wishing she were a little more Naomi.  Harder, less vulnerable.  Easier to predict, simpler to placate.  Not impressionable and reclusive.  He wishes Markie thought a little bit more about what needed to get done that day, kept better lists.  Worked more like a machine, less like Sylvia Plath.

     Bruce finds himself coveting his father's sleepy contentment, dopey detachment from all things non-cardiological--a detachment premised upon Naomi's looking after the rest of the material and social world, from taxes to thank you notes to dry-cleaning to child raising to breakfast.  Leaving Roy to the hospital, to the med school, to his practice, for as long as he likes every day and every night.  His two secretaries take over where Naomi leaves off.  Naomi writes Roy detailed reminder notes in tiny easily legible handwriting, which she leaves on his pillow.  Notes which tell him what he will need to do when he wakes in the morning, and for what time he should set the alarm.  Notes to his secretaries, who then type him more notes.  Infantilizing?  Who cares?

     Markie loses her gear if Bruce is a half an hour late at six pm, never mind what poor bastard is dying in Bruce's team's beds downtown.  Markie never worries about what Bruce is going to wear and whether it is ironed.  Markie doesn't iron.  Markie doesn't concern herself about what Bruce is eating.  Markie expects Bruce to do his fifty percent of household tasks, and to take over when she is writing hard or is very sad or needs time alone.  And to earn all the money, so she they can eventually climb out of debt, while she teaches writing classes for fifty dollars per hour-and-a-half, not counting prep and travel time, and while she is a quote professional unquote writer for a quote major unquote publishing house.  Said publishing house having paid ten grand for Markie's first novel, which took five years to write, and, if all goes very well, offering twenty grand for the next book, after only another five or so years of work.  Markie is not Naomi, who by the way earns seventy thou plus benes running Beth Ahaba School, not that she and Roy need it, with his department head private practice cardio-wizard mega-income.  Bruce is just a good internist, a regular doc with a commitment to teaching.  He thinks he's taken the laid-back route in life.  But that's another paragraph.  This paragraph is about how Markie is not Naomi, and how Bruce is reconsidering his position on that whole issue.  He thinks that now, after seven years, he might indeed try to turn Markie somewhat into Naomi if he could, as his brother once claimed Bruce one day would.  Not that he has a prayer.

 

 

 

On Fucking

 

The myth that parenthood allows no time for fucking.  Markie takes issue with this, both in conversation with herself, in her stories and her novel, and with her many friends.  She has rarely found so much opportunity or so much purity of purpose in fucking before, she insists.  She and Bruce are awake at odd hours.  They aren't trying to make babies, or practicing making babies, or persuading each other regarding what it would be like to have another baby.  Babies have no part in this seven-years-together sex.  They just do it, despite overwhelming odds and fatigue.

     It is true that they have to be quiet.  But this proves an advantage.  One doesn't have to think of what sounds to make or not to make.  Making sounds isn't part of the program.  Just action.

     More on fucking later.

 

 

What Bain Hears

 

The door to Bain's room stays open, the hall light on.  Bain likes the tree of light growing diagonally across his bed, and up the wall between the windows.  He lays on his back with his head where his feet are supposed to go and his cheek against Dix's back.  Dix purrs in jagged cat breaths.  Dix's fur moves up and down against Bain, telling the same story over and over.

     The window glass behind the half-open curtain is a spit bubble.  Behind it, outside trees hold grey sticks up into night sky.  Maybe there's a moon, maybe there are stars; Bain doesn't care.  The night color isn't the color inside the bed when he puts his head under the blankets.  It isn't the color of the basement, when he sneaks down there alone with no lights on.  The color outside the window is night color.  When Bain's falling asleep, he opens his eyes half way and looks out to be in the trees and inside the mouth of his room.  The house holds him in its mouth like a living baby bird in the mouth of Dix.  Warm breath crosses the floor from the grate where Dix sleeps during the day.  Dix sleeps all day by the heater, all night by Bain.  In summer, he sleeps in the window sill in the sun.  Except once, in his second, Bruce's third summer, when Dix went away for two days and three nights.  When Dix came back, half his ear was gone and his white hair was dirty and he had clumps of tar all over his belly.  Sometimes he brings Bain birds, moles, mice.  Once he brought him a hot baby bird which wasn't dead.

     Mommy and Daddy close their door right after everyone goes to bed.  They play Rolly, the game Bain plays with Jeff.  They lie on their backs or their fronts in the bed.  They roll and back and forth, back and forth.  They tickle.  They try not to laugh.  Sometimes they laugh anyway.  Especially Daddy, who laughs like a dog barking.  Once Bain opened the door and said he wanted to play.  They stopped playing.  Daddy told him he couldn't play.  Daddy told him to go back to bed and that he would come and read Pegasus.  Daddy had just finished reading Pegasus an hour before.  Bain asked why they were playing when they knew it would make them hyper.  They never played Rolly with him before he went to bed.  Mommy said when you're a grownup, playing Rolly makes you sleepy.  Daddy put Bain back in bed.  He read Bain The Napping House.

 

 

How Markie Met Bruce

 

Markie was waiting tables at Lindy's.  She could count the days she hadn't been asked out by a customer on one hand.  She'd have to use that hand over and over again, but the point is she was asked out a lot.  It wasn't that she was such a meteoric beauty.  She had great tits, that was true, irresistible, dark nippled, expressive in their tiltings, sturdy and coaxing.  Many were the men who had told her so.  But her calves were lunky.  No matter what she did, no matter how much she dieted or walked, her calves never streamlined into that '40s Grace Kelly, baseball-atop-a-candlestick articulation to which Markie aspired on their behalf.  Her calves were indefatigable, like her mother's and grandmother's before her.  When she hit the town, she could dance all night until everybody around her dropped, at least to their heels.  Her calves did their job.  But for the look, they were not ideal.

     Her ass was high average--no, better than that, but still far from that fun-loving standard set by her tits.  She had an A- ass, an endearing taut double dollop ass, but with tiny hospital corners and a disappointing sullen lower lip.  Her ass always seemed to be on the verge of sadness.

     What of her face?  Her face was her face.  Markie is deeply distrustful of descriptions of faces in novels and stories.  That's what cameras are for.  But this is not her novel or story, so here goes.  Her face did not (at the time she met Bruce) smile manically on the job, the way the faces of younger or stupider waitresses did.  But Markie didn't play the royal princess or the great artist trapped in a minimum wage job, either.  Her face was right there--nose slightly pointy, lips round as if painted that way in lipstick of the thirties.  Forehead high, not Edgar Allen Poe dead heroine high, but high.  Crested with that downy off-blond auburn wave.  Eyes hazel.  Cheekbones already sharp but not sharp the way they will be as she grows older.

     None of this tells much about her face.  Let's try personality attributes.  Markie's is a face prone to laugh rather than to sit in judgement.  A gracious face, twinkling here and there, especially the eyes.  Not a sarcastic face.  An interested rather than a surprised face.  Sardonic is right out.  Hers is a tilted and intrigued rather than a furrowed or wide-eyed face.

     Men, boys, women, and cats can't wait to rub their whiskers against her, at the time Bruce meets her, and still today.  Markie looks like she will be fun, is the thing.  She hears what boys, cats, women say.  She takes the measure of them, studies their parts and potentials.  She isn't afraid to see what will happen.  Adventures occur near her.  Men and cats anticipate this and follow her around.  They usually don't have to wait long.

     When Markie and Bruce met, Bruce was an intern and so tired and self-centered, the way they are during that year and many of them forever afterwards, that Markie could have set her adventurous intelligent humorous alert fun-generative body right down on Bruce's lap, and he probably would have looked up with those evangelist pink-rimmed post-call intern eyes and asked for more coffee.  Bruce was gone into that zone of ascetic discovery, that land of death biology and conjecture, that is medicine to the initiated.  To Markie he looked like a prophet come down from the hills, or in from the desert.  He looked like a poet who has been alone for a year and has produced the one great poem he will be remembered for, and who will soon die, feverish and triumphant, of consumption.  He looked like a rock star, a monk.  He looked, in his pale green scrubs and second day beard, like a martial artist, an incarceree.  He looked like her father.

     She gave Bruce her numbers, home and both jobs, on the cover of a takeout menu.  The menu she knew he'd keep, because the interns lived on Lindy's takeout.  Her own number she suspected he'd never venture, not because boys don't like girls who wear glasses and make passes--Markie knew better--but because he was, at the time, in the twilight zone, had no libido to speak of except for curing, diagnosis, eternal clinical reverie.  In fact Bruce didn't call for seven weeks, and then only to order a blue cheese burger, onion rings, and a vanilla shake.  As an afterthought, he asked Markie, who had picked up the phone, if Markie still worked there.  It was the end of her shift.  She delivered.

 

 

Bedtime Again

 

Markie watches Bruce close their bedroom door.  She's glad she doesn't sleep alone in a crib at this stage.  She prefers her extra-firm queen-size bed and her medium-firm prince-size husband.  The goodness of the situation often turns toward sex.  After a few minutes, Markie will just reach out and find him hard.  Or reach out and make him hard.

     Phallocentric?  I don't think so.  By the clock Bruce gets six to twelve minutes of undivided ministrations.  Then Markie lies back, or climbs up, and the clock is effectively discarded.  Markie enjoys all the time she needs.  She rises deliberately from the valley of interest to the mesa of focused engagement and only then, after a leisurely scenic traverse at that intermediate altitude, does she scale the foothills of serious foreplay.  Intercourse is not contemplated until the second base camp has been established on the equivalent of Day Four.  Orgasm is the planting of the flag of Markie's ecstasy upon the all but oxygenless summit of Bruce's patience and concentration.  All this to say that she gets hers, even if at the beginning it would look like mostly he's going to get his.

 

 

11:50 pm

 

In the middle of the night, Markie sits on the toilet and reads about Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts.  Her reflection sits there across from her in the shuttered black window glass reading about Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts.  Markie likes the woman in the window.  She likes the woman's house and the leisure of the well heated bathroom in the second fourth of the night.  She likes not worrying about not being asleep.  An oasis of time, passed in the company of stars.

     Substitute for the royal families of old?  Olympians acting out grandly on a cloudy magazine stage?  Just folks with big eyes airbrushed into the popular imagination?

     Whatever, Markie can't get enough of them.  The unlikely pairings, the brave doomed attempts of the chosen to achieve pedestrian happiness.  The struggle of the body beautiful defending itself against time, with surgery, the camera, and the rumor.

     We are all pop stars.  No, we're not.  But we all have our little public, our detractors, our moments of Oscar or Grammy glory followed by declines and sudden comebacks.  We all marry and violently split.  Mostly our public is a few close friends, parents, one or two kids.  Mostly we remarry the same man or woman with whom we violently broke, mostly the same day.  MARKIE LEAVES BRUCE AFTER DISHES DISPUTE, morning edition, Bethesda Inquirer.  BRUCE AND MARKIE SPOTTED IN COZY DEN REUNION, midnight edition.  Liz Taylors, Roseanne Barrs, Burt Reynoldses, each with our small supporting cast.

     Now near midnight Markie drops small units of excrement, neatly packed, partially dehydrated.  She can do this efficiently, but she likes to take her time.  Her production schedule is random, as if some computer is generating her bowel rhythm.  Bruce drops loads of stinking shit, every morning just after seven, with the dreadful offensive regularity of a military bomber daily defiling civilian living areas and rendering natural environments unlivable.  Great shifts of stool, volcanic trumpets of methane, jump-start these explosions.  The postman is less regular, the fireman less dramatic.  Why, Markie has often wondered, does the brilliant modern invention of the toilet amplify the ass's utterance?  Where, in the America of Ben Franklin's invention, is the sound engineer and plumber who will make his or her immortal fortune with the Silent Stinkless Potty?

     We all love the smell of our own production.  No, we all mind the smell of ourselves less than our spouses do.  Men are stinkier and louder.  A generalization.  Additionally, they pee from height.  They splatter, even with best intentions, even if they mop up.  Why no Home Urinal beside the Silent Potty?  The French, with their tiny apartments, accommodate the bidet.  If the bathroom is twentieth century America's proudest boast, then the millennium cannot come too soon.  The kinks must be worked out.  Bathroom ceiling fans make noise but turn over the air with unrealistic sloth.  Hood for the Silent Potty?  Silent Potty which evacuates air continuously from below?  The public laughs, but the public is a fool voiding operatically in a cloud of yesterday's luncheon.  Markie secretly dreams of herself as bathroom high tech guru.  If only she had gone to engineering school, then gotten an MBA.  She would be to the toilet what Bill Gates is to the PC.  Women everywhere would sing her praises.  Men would cite her acumen and chutzpa in envy as they sat silently and scentlessly reading in the evening or in the morning.

     Time for bed again.

 

 

3:04 am

 

Bruce heaves himself up with intern-like automaton instantness and goes to Lucy, whose cries are separated by shuddering elaborate Stevie Wonder inhalations.  Markie wakes slowly and listens.  There is a complex satisfaction to her daughter's call that hurts and enthralls her.  Like watching a love story, drunk and brokenhearted, on a plane to Paris.  Every moment of the film as perfect and sad as this.  Her second baby crying.

     Lucy gives in to Bruce's murmuring persuasion and his wide hands and shoulder.  Cries turn to airy boo-hoos as Da portages her down to the kitchen and microwaves water to immerse the bottle.  Markie listens with closed eyes.  Boo-hoos end as the bottle warms.  Bruce squeaks up the squeaky stairs and circles the crib beneath the giant whales in un-whale colors:  cotton-candy pink, apple green.  Lucy’s arms around his neck in medieval abandon, legs pressed frog fashion to his chest, feasting.  Lucy will always dwell unconsciously on this night-after-night romance, this civilized wild man coming to her rescue.

     Markie hates to admit it but they had been right, all the fellows and the odd woman or two who had told her to go into analysis.  Parenting makes sense after analysis, just as analysis makes sense when watching one's babies.  Reed, who had been what was called a psychoanalytic literary critic back when spades were spades in the humanities, and Marxist critics, for instance, were Marxist critists, not historical positivists--her father, who had been in analysis twice for a total of twelve years, had throughout Markie's twenties just shrugged whenever Markie brought up the topic as if to say, Oh, analysis, yes, you'll want to get started on that.  There were only two kinds of people, he confided the night before her wedding, when between cloudbursts of tears Markie demanded to know why he and Lenore had never separated.  There were those who had been in analysis, and those who should have been in analysis.  He was the former, Lenore the latter.  Then there were those who really weren't capable of analysis, but they didn't count.  If Lenore had been analyzed she might have left him, just as he might have left her had he not been analyzed.

     Bruce sings to Lucy now, fake Neil Young.

     First in line of the men to point Markie couchward was earnest angry Ben, who needed an excuse why Markie didn't want to marry him anymore.  Ben was Markie's grad section leader in musicology (a gen ed requirement) when she was a senior at Amherst.  He thought he was daringly slumming to be sleeping with an undergrad.  For Markie it had been uplifting, in a dowdy Western Massachusetts way, to be at the department parties, the chamber music rehearsals (Ben oboed), the faculty picnics in the spring.  Markie revelled in her parents' horror (Reed had been Lenore's teaching fellow at Cornell, and Lenore often and loudly rued the day she broke the paper partition of academic propriety to date him).  The astonishment of Markie's dorm-mates together with her mother's disproportionate horror moved her to accept Ben's marriage proposal when, just before Memorial Day, it came.  Plus if she married Ben in the fall (they had never got past a season in their planning) she didn't have to worry about where to live or what to do after graduation.  She would study something and have children.  But then she changed her mind and told Ben she was moving to Boston and that he couldn't come.  He decided that she was more neurotic than he had thought, not just interesting neurotic, and that really the problem was unresolved love for her father.  Ben was right, of course, but it was also her unresolved love for her father that had brought her into and past Ben's office hours in the first place.  What Ben really considered Markie's most serious symptom was that she could imagine herself without him.  He suggested, in parting from her, seething as he was with injured pride and newly and lately discovered respect, that she might think about some form of therapy, as if there were forms of therapy she would give the time of day to besides that full-length couch-and-kleenex antediluvian schedule-gobbling fortune- ruining Freudian regimen of which she had always dreamt.  Ben, in his own small way, wanted to harm her and mistakenly thought that by pointing her toward behavior modificationists, Lacanians, Prozac dispensers, Kleinians, and other assorted therapeutic troublemakers, he could avenge himself.  She thanked him kindly and might have added that she was breaking things off with him for much the same reason she wasn't going to any of his practitioners--what she was after neither he, nor they, could give her.

     Still, she held off.  Not entering analysis was like sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool with lungs full of air.  There was no real danger--she was in the shallow end and could stand up anytime she wanted to end her solitary tea party.  And yet, she was at the bottom of a swimming pool.

     She wrote her stories and then her novel, carpetbagged her MFA and headed home to DC.  She worked truly odd jobs, sold her first book and read psychoanalysis instead of doing it.  Reading was a hell of a lot cheaper, and she could pretend, for another few years, it was the same thing.  Then she met Bruce and was surrounded, at certain parties, by Bruce's psychiatrist friends, those doctors who didn't quite act like doctors, who had a little too much drift in their voices, too much hermit in their eyes to be, say, orthopedists.  Over the tapenade and the ceviche, the wild-eyed shrinks in the making, one of whom was an East Indian, Jane, all told her to go for analysis now, while she was young and she and Bruce were deeply in debt.  That way she could tap into the light end of the sliding scale, and she had a chance of getting in touch with herself before she became a wrinkled crone.  Still she blew bubbles, sipped tea, and waited.  For what?  A sign.  Not a crisis, just an annunciation, her own, someone else's, Get thee to Connecticut Avenue.

     But what had picked up Markie, tossed her through the air and back-flopped her onto her training-analyst's springy vinyl couch was not the men and Jane's good advice.  Six months of married jealousy accomplished what ten years of plodding approach hadn't.  Bruce started analysis lite (analytically oriented psychotherapy) on their first anniversary, hinting that being married to Markie was making such an investment imperative.  It worked for him.  He would come home, Tuesday after Tuesday, Friday after Friday, full of fury and happiness, eyes red-rimmed, fists moistly clenched, love and profanity on his lips.  He talked about mother, father, Markie, and some woman, Anne Beaumont, he had never mentioned previously.  This was interesting enough, but Tuesday after Tuesday, Friday after Friday, he also came home ready to acknowledge that he had been an asshole at some previous point in the week, ready to tell Markie, convincingly, how much and why he loved her, how much and why she was the rock at the center of his life, even if he occasionally felt marooned on her.  He came home randy, offering to cook the dinner that Markie had already cooked.  He sat down to that dinner calmly, without thinking about all the other places in town where he could be.  And then he fucked like a jack-rabbit, or laughed at his own waxing waning cock and just gave Markie the back and foot rubs of her life.  The couch rendered Bruce more human every week.  Markie wondered what it would render her.  So she went to Dr. Barbara Mendel four times a week for three years.  Midway she had Bain.

     And now Lucy, silent.  Bruce walking her a few more crib laps before attempting to insert her beneath the short quilt on the dwarf mattress.  Markie kept thinking about what the scenes that transpired daily and nightly in the new-bought house would become in the big little heads of Bain and Lucy.  Tragedies of crap-covered rage, of all-destroying piss-soaked hatred.  And, through rose-colored glasses, love stories of powdery assed delight, bathtub soaped oblivion, tucking in adoration and union.  The unconscious of the race, Markie told her friends, is forged with baby wipes and Balmex.  Yes, Reed agreed, in infancy is all narrative art of note.  All of Sophocles and Verdi, for instance, expressively sung before each child's third birthday.

     What would it mean to Lucy that it was Bruce, not Markie, who came to her rescue in the night four times out of five?  Would a man's strong arms, his rough beard and buzzing larynx, always signal safety?  Bain had known Markie as personal savior partly because Bruce was still on call every third night, partly because Markie was a new mother and managed to rouse herself as she did not manage now.  Bain had been lifted from night panic into Markie's arms, given nipple milk.  Lucy, after nine o'clock, usually received prepumped through silicone, Bruce lovingly holding her and dancing his athletic dance steps while performing his a cappella folk-rock imitations.  What would this mean in twenty years?  What would did it mean to Lucy tonight?

     Markie is asleep.

 

 

Independence Day by Lisa Witter

 

Tracy walked out of her dorm in the setting suns light, which lingered on the bricks and on the sidewalk like lacy pink lingeray.  She was nervous, and she could tell she was nervous because she couldn't catch her breath and her heart was pounding.  "God, I can't believe it." she said.  She was going to get her navel ring.

     She was going with her friend Matty whos old girlfriend had one and told her she should get one too.  Tracy and Matty were just platonic.  Sure, they'd done stuff, but they were really friends.  They walked through the sunset light--it was November, and the leaves were all down, and the streetlights had already come on.  They went to Georgetown to a shop for metalheads and headbangers and freaks.  It was dark inside and they looked at bomber jackets and tour shirts for metal bands and the leather and whips, just for laughs.

     "We could really use this." Matty siad.  He was holding up buttless pants  and he said it really loud so everybody in the store could hear him.  There were only a couple of people, all guys, except for the girl at the register who looked like Elvira crossed with Whitney Houston.  She could hear Matty too but she pretended she couldn't.

     "Sure, get it." Tracy yelled back.  She was holding up these boots that were a little taller than her knees.  They were brown calveskin, not biker leather, and actually she really did want them, except she was vegetarian and didn't wear leather.  She said it was stupid for people to wear leather and throw blood on people who wore furs.  "What do you think of these?"

     "Great.  Buy em." Matty said.  One girl looked at them both and totally believed them.  Matty took her to the back and up these dark stairs with dust and lint and blacklite posters on the walls.  There was a door at the top and Matty knocked and said, Hi, and this big guy opened it.  He was bigger than Matty.  Tracy felt like a little girl and suddenly she thought oh my god I'm here, I'm really here.  Matty said this is Dog.  Really his name was Doug but Matty said it like Dog.

     "Come on in." Dog said.  I'm just finishing up sister here.  She wasn't really his sister just a girl.  He called all the girls sister not cause they were black, they weren't.  He wasn't either it was just like a sensitive biker dude thing.  Sister was getting a nose stud and she smiled at Matty and Matty looked away like she was naked.  She had just gotten pierced and had her clean stick in and she was bleeding a little.  She was stoned, she was really happy, and Doug said she was numb anyway.  He had stuff that he rubbed on that made you numb.  But still it was scary and she was smiling.

     "Have a drink" Dog said and Matty said what and he said wine on the desk.  So Tracy drank the wine and thought about her sweet navel.  She was really doing it because of Billy.  Billy was her boyfriend.  Well, they broke up, but Billy was her boyfriend all freshman year and in the summer.  They broke up when they got back to school which was ironic becasue they had been long distance all summer and spent a hundred dollars a week on calls.  Billy hadnt even liked pierced ears which Tracy already had since she was twelve so when she got her second and third pairs he almost broke up with her.  He said she was selfdestructive but he did coke even if he was vegan so who was he to talk?  He was the first guy she slept with not made love with but spent nights.  When she lived with her dad he kept her on a tight lease sure she had boyfriends in high school and had sex but there was no way she could stay out all night.  He would have lost his gear and thrown her out, he said so and he meant it.  He was a chiropractor and strong and he would like physically have thrown her out.  As long as your in my house, he said, you play by house rules.  Tracy knew why her mom had taken off, her dad was a good guy but strict and you couldn't really talk to him, so her mom had taken Tracy and moved back to Virgirnia (her dad was in Frederick) to where she grew up but she was really poor (she was a ceramic artist) and lived with no neighbors for a mile in one direction and two three miles in the other direction.  Tracy spent summers with her dad and when she was in high school she just stayed there.  Anyway, she never spent nights with any guy until Billy when she started Georgetown, her dad's school or she would have never gotten in even though she was smart.  And she loved him a lot, even though he made her crazy.  Billy didn't want her to pierce anything.  He wore only natural and taught her to do that and not to eat red meat and then not to eat white meat and then fish, but she drew the line at eggs and milkproducts because youve got to eat something and what difference does it make whether grass dies, or like milk molecules?  Besides, he did coke, which is worse than eating meat really, for one thing cause of the poor countries it comes from.  He was like her dad in that you couldn't talk to him about anything.  He just had his own ideas and thought he was cool because he was vegan.  He was totally stubborn but he was really cute, cute's a stupid word, he was handsome but still a boy.  His hair is really clean but always messed up like he just toweled it.  Its brown and pretty long.  He had dark eyes and he's a swimmer and when he was at St Anselmes he was allstate, so he was really built, but not with gross muscles sticking out all over the place.  They mostly slept at his room cause his roommate was in a band CULT 45 and was never there, hwereas Tracys roommate was a nerd and got up at seven even on Saturday, put on her shoes even though she didn't have to go anywhere, and sat down at her mac to study.  Her name's Christine which figures cause shes a total martyr.  Oh, that's okay.  You guys make all the noise you want.  I'll just put my headphones on.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *  *   *   *   *

"Ok.  YOur turn." Dog said.

     Shit, Tracy thought.

     "Take off all your clothes, Just kidding." Dog said.  That was supposed to be a joke but it was one of those jokes that really means what the person thinks.  The stoner sister had stopped bleeding and left.  Tracy wore a cross on a really long chain.  It was longer than dog tags and it didn't have JC on it or anything.  It was silver.  Her mom had made it for her when she was a silver artist.  When she pulled up her shirt and tied it into a midriff but a little higher under her breasts, the cross hung down onto her stomach.

     Matty said. "He'll protect you." meaning god which was supposed to be funny.  Sometimes Matty could really be a moreon.  Tracy needed him to be supportive and maybe even stand up to Doug once in a while instead of smiling at his so-called stupid jokes.  "Just lie on the table hon." Doug said.  Hon? Tracy thought?  And then she thought of her dad's table in Baltimore and the way he used to let her sit in the corner while he worked on the ladies and the men who had mostly back trouble but sometimes historectomies they were bouncing back from.  Her dad could pick them up and shake them.  He could crack them or aline them on the table.  When she was little she used to think he could just fix anybody for anything.  Like if they were dead from a carwreck and they got brought to her dad's office in time, he could just snap them back, and they'd stand up and say, Josh, I feel so much better, I can't tell you, the way the ladies all did, and give him those smiles and those big sighs.  But what was Dog going to do to fix her?  She got on the table anyway and gave him her navel ring which shed been wearing on her right pinky.  He put it in alcohol.  She'd picked it out in Annapolis the week after Billy broke up with her.  "You met someone else, didn't you" she asked him when he told her.  She wasn't surprised.  That was what surprised her, that she wasn't surprised.  "No." he said but he was lying and later they talked.  She went with her friend Kelly and this other communications mjr Martha.  They cheered her up and in this shop which was mostly scrimshaw she found the ring and as soon as she saw it she thought, yes, now I can pierce myself twenty times in really gross places if I want to.  Fuck Billy Moulton.  And who had he met in Cinncinnatti of all places in June, and why if she was so great had he spent every night on the phone with her in Baltimore and then in August in Leyton Virginia?  Did he just talk to her till midnight and then go do it with Lela (that was her name he didnt mean to tell her but then he said it by mistake anyway.)  Did he only see her like once a week, and maybe just date and not do more than kiss?  She wanted to know but she didn't or I guess she would have asked.  But she stood on her dignity and said, the last time they saw each except just running into each other, Well, Billy, I love you, you know that, but this is goodbye.  It was just like a movie.  She had memorized her part and just had to say it.  And she walked away from him across the Quad and didn't look back.  Which was stupid because she ran into him after Marketing the next day anyway, but that wasn't the same and she made her point.

     Now here she was, getting numb.  Matty was standing right next to her holding her hand like she was having a baby.  "It's going to rule." he said.  Tracy smiled at him.  They were platonic, but he was still the best.  She should marry him when she graduated.  She trusted him more than any of her girlfriends except Georganna and Georganna was at Tulane but she coudn't imagine having sex with him.  Dog took out this hairy looking needle and put it right wehere she could see it and smiled at her.  "You better fuckin be careful." Tracy told him before he could make any more stupid hon jokes, and he was serious.  "Woe.  Check this bad motherfucker out.  Who the fuck do you think you are man?  Get out of my light." Dog said.  But you could tell he had heard Matty was serious.  He wasn't making anymore take off all your clothes hon jokes.  His face was quiet.  "Is this for your birthday or Christmas?" he said once he was doing it.  He was trying to be nice and distract her, but it didn't hurt.  "No.  Tracy told him.  Independence Day."  It just came out.  She and Matty who knew all about Billy and that Tracy was getting the navel ring to celebrate laughed.  Dog said. "Its fucking December.  Kind of early, aren't you?"   He soaked the needle in bleach.  Double safe he told Matty, before he did it.  Matty just nodded.  "Kind of early, aren't you?" he said.  "No.  Tracy told him.  "Kind of late."

 

 

Morning

 

When the radio comes on, Markie is dreaming about a special cd that comes with a pair of Joan & David pumps, deep brown faux-crocodile, medium heel.  The cd is attached to the lid of the shoe box and has electrified acoustic music on it, young middle-age music with a serene beat.  In the dream the face on the cd cover is Markie's cousin, Rain, who sells houses in Gaithersburg and cannot, as far as Markie, now awake, remembers, carry a tune.  The surprise is the packaging of the shoes and the music together.

     It's dark and six-twenty.  Bruce's rump warms her from knee to navel.  Her arm is along his chest, her half-closed fist at his sternum.  Often when she thinks about it she is acutely aware of being paired with a male mammal, raising live young.  She also notices she is in Bethesda, is thirty-six, has to piss, and is in a black mood underneath which is a contented sense of enormous wealth.  She has a boy mammal no longer quite a baby, and a girl mammal very much a baby, in her own spacious four-bedroom cave.  She is trying desperately not to hear the movie review on NPR because reviews, whether good or bad, take a huge toll on art.  She herself writes book reviews, but reads as few as possible.  She asks Rick her comp lit friend and Tim her publishing friend what she should read.  Rick and Tim tell her, without giving away the barest crumb of plot or even setting.  She asks her brother Declan what movies to see.  He sees all movies and advises her.  If everybody had a Rick, a Tim and a Declan, there would be no need for reviewers.  She will never have time to see the movie the NPR reviewer is butchering.  But what if she does?  On the way to the bathroom she hums to herself, a baroquish melody in a major key, so as not to hear any more.

     Heat spills from the house grates like scented offerings.  The carpet laps at the walls.  Heifetz (Bain says Dix) stiffly descends the stairs with her, his jowled head swinging.  His bowl perpetually contains dry cereal but he is unable to forget the years he was fed twice a day on canned wet food, and still rouses himself for breakfast.  A parolee after a thirty year sentence.

     Coffee.  Window.  Street.  Jogger.  Sometimes it's all just too much.

     Markie and Bruce bought the house one weekend.  They spent more time on their tent, a Northwest cyber-fiber tunnel that can sustain life in the arctic or dangling from a cliff in the Himalayas.  The house was easy.  They looked at Victorians and laughed at the ancient Miss Haversham's wedding cryptlike bedrooms.  They glanced at colonials and did Scarlett and Rhett amongst the columns, down the banisters, then drove away.  They visited their first split-level ranch and groaned, knowing at once they were destined to live in one of them--one floor, with a warehouse of a basement, and a living area that would hopelessly intermingle the eating, stereo listening, cooking, reading and tv watching realms of waking life.  They needed a school district without guns, and a den.  They didn't want a street where every house wore the same dress in a different color.  They wanted trees.  They ended up in Bethesda with a short staircase.  Very short.  Five steps.

     Was this a fairy tale beginning or a nightmare ending?  Is Markie a glass slipper princess or a Stepford wife?  The burbs endlessly pose such questions.  Markie endlessly answers them, sometimes one way, sometimes the other.

     Almost seven now.  That dreadful perfect moment when the baby wakes.  She wakes and signals her wakefulness with babble.  Markie goes to her.  Lucy mysteriously heavy.  Her body through alchemy twice usual density.  Lucy comes ponderously up out of sleep.  She doesn't smile or carry on--she looks about, takes stock of her imminent domain, cooperates absently with the levee, all the while carrying on the wordless monologue that would have turned to crying and woken Bain had Markie not arrived in time.  Markie defers, murmurs back to her second born like a sycophant elder statesman.  But this isn't really necessary.  Lucy has bigger things than changing and dressing on her mind.

     Markie has as one of three goals of her life, together with realizing her potential as a writer, and maintaining not only her sanity but her full appreciative and critical awareness, the goal of being a good mother but not an obsessive one.  A good mother is not only a devoted one.  A good mother is one to whom motherhood is good, an enriching adventure not a cult, not a martyrdom, not a transformation into a being unrecognizable from the being who was the woman before motherhood.  Markie wants to have her children spring from her, grow up alongside her, like little pipe organs beside a taller pipe organ, in a harmony of spirit and energy.  She wants--and she knows at times that this is a utopian, as opposed to a likely, concept--for motherhood to leave her with as much time, energy, and independence as she had before her children were born, and as she will have when they go off to college.  She wants motherhood to be an awakening, not a deadening.  So far, so good.  Others revel in tales of how everything changed from the moment their first was born, how as a couple their life effectively ended and began again, strangely and wonderfully.  Markie has adopted another song to sing, one about how after Bain was born she could relax, on some deep level, knowing that she had fulfilled one thread of her destiny and could get on with the others.  Yes, she was sleep deprived, endorphin hooked, yes she was for the first time fully responsible for another and etc. that year after Bain was born.  But she swims into and against that tide, rather than letting it sweep her under and down.  She lets herself grow stronger under the geologic pressures of motherhood.  She took that power for a ride right away.  Specifically, she started squirreling away funny hours for writings, hours she hadn't considered making use of since her college days.  In Bain's first year she wrote a short story every other week, indulging shorter forms at three and four in the morning or afternoon, sometimes while nursing, one hand on the keyboard.  She also bought a lot of clothes, continued to eat whatever she craved as she had through gestation, and began to tell Bruce what to do without feeling bitchy or bossy, just matter-of-fact.

     She and Lucy understand each other.  Bain always expects more than mama gives, but Lucy respects Markie's limits.  Is it because her daughter will be a mother someday?  Or because, as a second child, she has known from the start that she is not the only center of things?  Markie speculates on these matters, knowing only that Lucy is less likely than Bain ever was to require a feeding at four in the morning, or to interrupt Markie's afternoon writing session for changing and playtime.

     Markie didn't realize babies could be other than all-demanding until she was an exchange student in Taiwan senior year of high school.  Taiwanese babies never cried without having a specific message.  When they were answered with a snack or a change of position, that at once placated their faces and voices.  That year, Markie decided that she didn't have to have five children or more, like Lenore, and that her children were going to be Taiwanese in spirit if not in fact (she had a Taiwanese boyfriend at the time).

    

 

Bruce finds Bain awake.  Bain chooses clothes for the day--stretch-waist tan corduroys, a maroon-and-gray striped long sleeve polo shirt, Buster Brown party shoes.  Bain puts Markie's barrette high in his wavy hair and tells Bruce that he is going to make birds.  Bruce has learned not to question his son directly, but to wait until pieces of his discourse clear themselves up.  Plus he has to shave.  He brings him to Markie who's going to feed him cereal and juice.  She's holding Lucy and reading the paper.  She looks like a woman with a purpose.  No, a woman with a papoose.

 

 

Friday

 

Markie drives the George Washington Parkway with that G.W. Parkway feeling that one is driving too fast, with too little clearance off the front left fender from the stone guard wall, though one is actually cruising at the prevailing traffic speed in the middle of one's lane.  Markie is nearly on time, here in the tail end of the morning rush.   She has drunk hot and cold things.  She has deposited Lucy and Bain at their daycare and buddy's houses, respectively.  She has thrown short stories, marked greenly, into her bag.

     She passes the patch of a traffic island upon which she once parked her rusting Jetta, got out and wrestled Lambert, her seven-foot rent-a-python, from under her driver's seat.  Passing cars slowed to watch the show.  Markie was wearing a puffy white clown suit with the blue and red-polka dot chemise, the saucer-size buttons, the pink lace collar.  Eleven years later that moment remains emblematic of her single life.

     Snakes.  Boys.  Difficult to engage and then, at the end, more than difficult to disengage.  Lambert had traditionally ridden in his Adidas bag on the passenger side floor.  That day, irritable and itchy, he'd nuzzled the zipper from the inside, slipped free, and enmeshed his coils with those of the pleasingly vibrating car seat.  Then he had revealed himself to Markie by flicking his tongue across her ankles.  By the time she pulled up onto the squiggle of a traffic island, Lambert was so ecstatic he couldn't have released her if he'd wanted to.  This had happened to Markie with other males in other vehicles.

     Where are the beaux now?  Andy's in Austin, married to what's-her-name.  Markie has a serious case of aggressive name non-recall when it comes to what's-her-name.  Andy phones late at night and leaves inappropriate double-entendres on the machine that get a rise out of even non-possessive non-confrontational Bruce.  Ben is at Michigan, married to a former student who looks, so everyone tells her, like Markie without glasses.  Raphael's a lawyer in Berlin, which is ironic because he's not a big fan of German people.  Michael's writing for the Times and living with Carl.  They see each other once every two years or so, midtown or Georgetown, depending on which one of them has taken the shuttle, and Michael still treats her to that kindness and arm's-lengthness which Johnny-come-lately gay men reserve for their last official girlfriends.  A sort of cherry-popper distinction in reverse.

     Then there's Lambert, who when Markie had her relationship with him was living in an ostentatious Pooks Hill tudor with his trainer, Caleb.  Caleb had only been able to recommend, during Lambert's molting, that Markie take luke-warm baths with the eight-foot molurus, that she reassure him as she would any other fellow going through changes, and that she actively aid him in sloughing.  Gamely, Markie Doved him, cooed to him and, against her better instincts, allowed Lambert to taughten gently across her chest in order that he might better listen to her soothing heartbeat.  This, Caleb assured her, any anxious python must do.  Markie then cautiously stretched Lambert across her knees and picked at his belly just as, after each Labor Day throughout her teens, she worked on her sister Beth's sunburnt shoulders.  There were two differences.  Lambert didn't have freckles, only a beautiful Southwestern motif in ochre and slate, like the dinner set Markie had coveted in Santa Fe on her honeymoon.  She could have cashed in her Crate and Barrel registry and bought a set, but what would she have told everyone when they came to dinner?  No, Lambert didn't have freckles, only that suave pattern.  Beth, on the other hand, didn't recoil into a figure-eight, hiss through slitted nostrils or feign head strikes when Markie stripped off one layer too many.

     Markie doesn't miss dating.  But then who misses elementary school?  Who misses their engagement year, with all that hugging and wrestling, or any phase of life?  Even before Reed was diagnosed, he and Lenore were not of the enthusiastically baby sitting, honey, don't-you-wish-we-could-do-it-all-over-again school of grandparenting.  They carried snapshots, would caretake under duress, but appreciated three days notice.  They didn't want to raise seven children again.  Once, Lenore assures Markie, had been sufficient amusement.  This is pretty much Markie's attitude toward her polyandrous years.

     Half an hour after that tug-of-war on the traffic island, Markie and Lambert were expected at a boys' tenth birthday party in Roslyn, out of the clown suit and into the G-rated snake charmer outfit.  Markie was poor enough, back then, to clown a birthday party for six-year-olds coeds the same afternoon she was to snake charm the ten-year-old frat boys.  Hard to believe, too, that she had waitressed for four years, and managed, between day jobs and night jobs, to write three manuscripts, one of which was readable.  But that's how poor and ambitious she had been.

     If only someone would tell us in advance how much money we might expect to have all the way through our lives, so we could make intelligent financial decisions.  Yes, I've been to my tarot financial planner and I'd like to take out a loan.  I'm aware this is Nationbank.  Madame Orelia assured me my collateral will come with a stranger and will involve water.  I'm afraid that's all I can tell you right now.  Here's her card.  Of course, we might never do anything if we had too much information.  Or we might do more.  That is what Markie's father is mulling over these days, and Markie with him.  Would Reed have quit teaching and gone off to Annapolis to live on the boat, had he known about the leukemia?  Would he have let the boat sit in dry dock and just stayed in town with Lenore and the kids and grands?  Or run off with Daisy, dean of student life, who'd been wet for him since their assistantships?  Based on how he was thinking and behaving now, Reed told Markie he was reaching the wan conclusion that he wouldn't have done anything differently.  His ambivalence is still right there in place, and he would have taught, and very slowly rigged and sailed, argued and reconciled with Lenore fortnightly, and mildly tortured Daisy with gazes and drunken caresses at public gatherings, just as he had always done.

     But that paragraph was about money and whether Markie would have clowned, charmed and slung hash if she'd had foreknowledge that she would soon be a middle-class wife, novelist, untenured lecturer, and mother of two.  Maybe she would have written all day long through those years, not just a couple hours a day, and become a famous girl-author who, seen on the dust jacket, provokes the thought, Wow, just a kid.  Now, her chance to be a startlingly young player has come and gone--now, Bruce complete with love handles and a distracted manner, now, with her own cellulit flanks and partially deflated isosceles maternal breasts, with a voice that produces fluent, once unimaginable DON'T and COME HEREs that burst from her throat with astonishing menace and bring her two-year-eight-month-old to bay, occasionally to tears--now with a mortgage, two car payments, Bruce's med school, both their shrink debts, and a backlog of seven wedding and nineteen birthday presents (mostly to Markie's four sisters two brothers and their spouses) and four anniversary presents to each other--now, Markie has achieved the kind of indebted half-acre landed gentryhood she never banked on in her waiting, clowning and charming days.

     She parks.

 

 

ENGG 81011: INTRODUCTORY FICTION WORKSHOP  (instructor approval required)

 

Eleven-fifteen.  The students position their beverages and their classmates's stories, which they've sloppily or obsessively marked, in front of themselves.  They have their attitudes and their constellation, clever popular easy-going types by the window with the courtyard view, and just the right distance from the radiator, quiet untalented unattractive citizens arrayed along the wall, where the radiator blasts and hisses at those alongside it until they are stupefied into staring drooling slack-jawed passivity.  Markie takes the head of the table, mater familias, and thinks once again how good it is to be in charge.

     To teach is better than to learn.  One's opinions predominate.  Transferences occur, the result of which is that one is surrounded by a certain glow.  The children, the students, adore.  One rises to the heightened expectations of oneself.  What skills, areas of knowledge or personal attributes one doesn't possess, one can cover up pretty well.

     There are nine of them.  Three are older, two of these are women with children.  One of these two is more beautiful than Markie.  She also writes well and is lesbian.  She has two children and an ex-husband.  All this burns Markie up a little bit.  It interferes with Markie being the star.  This intriguing older woman--not as old as Markie, but older by ten-years than the normal undergraduates--is Belinda.  Even her name irritates Markie.  It sounds like, My name used to be Linda, which of course means Beautiful One in Spanish.  But so many people wanted to be like me that my name evolved into Be-Linda.  As in, wouldn't you, too, Be-Linda if you could?  I briefly considered Me-Linda, but really that's the same as Linda.

     Markie has spent her life having ambivalent near misses with bisexuality.  She has never crossed the line, but she's danced all over it.  The climax came just before she conceived Bain, when she was deeply befriending her friend Seth.  Seth was short for Sara Beth, but Seth was a tiny bit butch too.  She was Markie's fitness friend.  Her accent was West Virginia, her hair was Long Island, and her expression Fellini ingenue--vapid, sexy.  Round face, open blue swimming pool eyes.  Markie fell quietly in love with her when she and Seth met at aerobics one spring, and when they quit, they biked, walked, swam, and played tennis together for nearly a year.  Markie was childless then and had no idea how un-busy she was.  She and Seth saw each other twice a week and they always talked about sex.  They knew more about each other's husbands and clits than they did about their own.  Once, after a long afternoon ride through an October rainstorm, Markie had taken a shower to get some heat back into her body.  In Seth's kitchen, she had eaten a bag of Pepperidge Farm Geneva cookies and most of a box of Original Wheat Thins and she and Seth had talked about sex a little too hard.  Somewhere after the cookies and in between crackers, Markie found herself kissing sweet salty Seth the way an ardent lover kisses her mistress.  Without a change in that nearly blank irresistible expression, Seth breathed, Let's go upstairs.  But Markie must not have wanted to go upstairs, because she found herself instead walking in the rain down the path of Seth's cookie-cutter Rockville town house, where she lived with her optometrist husband, and then driving off down the street in the midst of the most powerful sustained orgasm she has ever experienced.  At the top of Seth's little hill, Markie's minute-long quaking silent heart-rending come culminated and ebbed, while she herself stared through thick tears at the curved purple top of the mailbox into which she had tenderly crashed.  That was when she once again decided she really was on the wrong side of the fence.  But then she drove home and conceived Bain, give or take a week.  She and Seth hadn't necked since.

     But what has all this to do with Belinda, whose story is to be discussed today?  Well, Markie puts Belinda's story first, that's what it has to do with Belinda.  She puts Belinda's perfectly competent story, which is about a man who works in a public relations agency (Belinda herself has worked for years in a public relations agency, rising on merit, squirreling away a premature fortune.  Markie hates these late-blooming thirty-something collegians, with their worldly experience, their self-confidence, and their excellent homework.  She much prefers the regular post-high school undergraduates, with their crappy work presentation, their near absolute lack of anything to write about.  They are so much more imaginative.  They have to be.  And when they aren't, they fail so completely, they just fall apart all over the page and right there in front of each other in the classroom.  Then Markie helps them find some virtue in themselves, and uncovers interest in their abortive or bulky paragraphs)--a story about a fellow in a public relations agency, whose marriage is on the rocks.  It is a respectable story, punctuated correctly, with a plot that develops, gets off, and resolves.  With characters who have characteristics, with see-ably described settings and dialogue in which one person sounds different from another.  Information is shown, not told.  And Markie puts the story in the first hour, where it will be dispensed with while the class warms up.  Where it will not receive the measure of glory it would receive were it to be discussed in the second hour, when Lisa's piercing story, with it's lack of technique, its primitive rightness, its power gleaming through the rubble, will be discussed.  Because Markie is a little put-off by Belinda, who has already written in her short story "Produce" most delicately about lesbian love, and is now showing that she can do straight stuff too.  Markie won't give her that satisfaction.  Belinda has Claudia Schiffer hair.  She dresses like all the money she socked away in her diplomaless twenties and is still raking in, holding onto her place in the firm, because--she explained to shabby Markie in her shabby clothes in her shabby office during her shabby office hour--because the firm simply won't let Be-Linda go, insists on paying Be-Linda's tuition and letting her write her own contract and her own hours.  Charcoal suits with caramel satin blouses, jersey and crepe dresses, curvaceous suede jackets--for this cold January day, a fitted chartreuse cashmere.  Markie simply won't have it.

     Tom jumps right in when Belinda finishes reading her story out loud.  Tom often jumps right in, and unless Markie stops him, which she has no intention of doing now, he enthusiastically eliminates twenty minutes of class time with his opening monologue.  Tom has prelaw all over his face.  He could sell a dishwasher to the Amish.  He can sell this story to everybody in the room and does, noting that the man is truly well portrayed, I mean Tom feels like he knows the guy, Russ, I mean the guy must really be suffering, and I mean isn't it cool how you can't take sides because even though he's married and has that baby boy, Ty, he like has to leave TC because TC is obviously going to drag him into her self-destructive depression?  TC needs Russ to be as helpless as she is, and that won't even do Ty, the baby (Tyrone--Belinda has shortened names, and nicknames, coming out the wazoo) any good.  Yes, Tom covers everything, and only when he's winded and his buddies, the groovy set by the window, are giving him the vigorous head nods they all approve of each other with, and the have-nots by the radiator rouse themselves from their fast-descending stupor (class is at the forty minute mark now--break time minus fifteen, an hour and fifteen minutes until late lunch, which is a long time to be steamed like a pork bun) to say yeah, and more ambitiously, yeah, I liked that part too--only then does Tom look to Markie, who has been sagely silent, for confirmation.

     What will Professor Molloy say?  (To undergraduates all over-thirty-year-olds who teach in the university are professors.  Markie loves the way they address her, employing the full and in her case entirely bogus title, as if they are trapped in the nineteenth-century Weimar town where the scholars address the lecturers as, for instance, Frau Professor Doktor Molloy-Reinhart.)  Professor Molloy must say one thing which will turn the tide against Belinda, while making it seem she has nothing but Belinda's best interest, the development of Belinda, the deepening and ripening of Belinda's already heavy-on-the-vine weltaangshung, the clarification of Belinda's already neatly-in-focus representation of the struggles of men and women, and women and women, to be together, to raise children well, under the burdens of their own and society's flaws, in mind.  But turn the tide against Belinda she must and will.

     "Calendar"--always start with the name of the story, the name of character, the specific, when workshopping.  Always show the students that you are crystal clear about what they have written, that you place their story--banged out in an hour well after midnight the night before it is due, printed out lopsidedly and on the lightest dot-matrix insult of an abused printer--alongside the great short works, the Woolf, the O'Connor.  Always type up your final appraisal and staple it to the back page of whatever you are handing back to the student, even if your comment consists of a single thoughtful sentence--"'Calendar,' you, Markie, say, your eyes moving gently over your flock, "takes us to places we haven't seen.  'Calendar' gives us glass offices, politics, a whole industry we know little about."  And a home, too, you elaborate, a relationship on the verge of collapse and yet vital.  Impressive.  But there's something that isn't in this story.  What is it?  You pause, lift your pen.  Wince minutely.  It pains you that something pains you about the story.  You wish you could grant it absolution.  But the story has sinned in some way, a sin of omission.  The groovy set accept this cloudy verdict.  They believe you.  They open their mouths and only after they are talking, after they are locating the absence of--what is it? let us call it soul, that absence, a kind of primary raison d'être that should and must be--only after the groovy set is already fluently searching, already nibbling on Belinda, do they worry about what exactly they will say.  They know only that the tide has turned, that Professor Molloy has, however kindly, indicated a lacuna.

     At the last Belinda makes herself ridiculous, defending herself unbecomingly against even the few valid criticisms leveled against her work, easily the best crafted of the semester.  And at the moment of maximum vanity, when Belinda has just made a little speech about how, if any of them, the young, those she cannot return to, not even with her looks, her clothes, her money--if any of them knew what an office was like, they wouldn't call her portrayal melodramatic, if even one of them had been married, they would understand how yes, two people can live intimately, have a child together, and still know each other as incompletely as her Russ and TC know each other--at that moment of revelation of Belinda as Belinda, Markie understatedly contributes her only other comment this hour.

     "We'll take our break now."

     Belinda looks up, stricken.  Why? her eyes ask.

     Markie is ashamed.

 

 

Jews

 

Religious observance to Jewish men meant that one's ancestors, up to and including those of the immediately preceding generation, were appeased, and one could get on with the business of pleasure.  Markie had grown up Catholic--the whole nine yards, parochial school complete with plaid giant-safety-pinned skirts, confession, and years of childhood dreams in which she longed, sequentially, to become Saint Bernadette, an alter boy and the first female bishop.  Until long after first communion, until the very end of high school and her year in Taiwan, she retained unformulated but resolute plans for a family of seven like Mommy with a man like Daddy.  Her mother's Catholicism was tribal and instinctive, seasonal and sexual, revolving around the holidays and the babies and the other mothers.  Her father's Catholicism was qualified but by no means extinguished by his intense antagonism toward hierarchy, the myth of the Passion, and the concept of sin.  Markie threw it all in when she reached Amherst, but kept dating Catholic boys off and on by reflex until she let herself get engaged to Ben.  There were a few Jews in the mix and Markie didn't really see what all the fuss was about, disappointed after the stories she'd heard about Jewish boys who would date but never marry non-Jews, boys whose parents would throw emotional and monetary fits if they brought home shiksas.  The Jewish men in the five-college region she dated were reasonable and sexy, mostly pre-med and only faintly exotic, as if they had a gypsy camp or a caravan waiting somewhere outside South Hadley to which they returned at night.  Then she confined herself to Ben, a shaky Quaker, until she graduated, left him, and moved to Somerville to become an artiste.  While applying herself to her MFA, she added to her list of experiences a Korean drummer, a Baptist endocrinologist (black), a forty-six-year-old Vermont entrepreneur, and a pure Irish twenty-seven-year-old VCR repairman.  All the time she assumed on some level secret almost to herself that in the end she would magically end up a regular old lapsed Catholic wife and that, one day, when the church finally caught Enlightenment fever, she could skeptically raise her children, only three or four of them in her mind now, on the ideological outskirts of a parish.  She tried to be serious about Mark, the VCR boy, when she again decided it was time to get married (the last semester of degree programs had this effect on her) even though Mark and Markie would have been silly, and even though Mark, she knew deep down, wasn't challenging.  Nice as hell, so that when Markie left him and Boston she had to be mean about it--there was no way he would take a hint or rise to one her provocations, as Ben had so easily--super nice, but not challenging.  In Washington she chaotically and systematically put herself out there for another five-and-a-half years, adding among many others a Texan Hirschorn curator, a Columbia (Maryland) horse farmer, a Adams Morgan poet-cook, and twin brother office managers from Vienna (Virginia), one named Henry and the other who went by Henri though his real name was Nathan.  Finally, Bruce called for take-out and Markie got with him.  Bruce confessed that he thought they might have to spend their lives together, and suddenly Markie understood the power of the Jewish man phenomenon.  It crept up on her, the polymorphous perversity of the Semitic-Celtic union, wandering Jew bumping into Druid prophetess, even if she and Bruce were both Eastern lefty humanists born the same month.  This sort of post-modern concubinage took over Markie's imagination--the secret was you had to be not dating, but mating--along with her desire for Bruce's long legs and unburnable skin, his beautiful Song of Solomon hillock breasts, Lebanon cedar shoulders and thighs, and his tasty dignified somehow extra pretty prick.

     For his part, Bruce took on a strange expression when he talked about being a Jew.  He looked stupid and primitive, and Markie liked it.  This was hard to explain.  Maybe she had listened to the West Side Story album too many times in her adolescence, and over-generalized.  Maybe she was enacting her father's desire to cross fences and mingle with other peoples in pastoral Gauguin abandon.  In any case, she loved the way Bruce talked about history, ancient and modern, and his family, all but one of whom had escaped the Nazis.  He employed helpless passionate gestures of his hands when he considered Markie and her pagan holidays and the landed generations from which she sprang.  He didn't want her to convert but couldn't imagine raising children in a home that wasn't Jewish.  This was about demographics, war reparations, and a superstitious belief that if he didn't establish his offspring in the tribe of Cohen, he would be cursed with medical incompetence if not actual impotence.  Six million ghosts--sophisticated middle-class German children with satchels, angry Austrian mothers standing in cattle yards in their finery, harried Czech fathers exiled from their offices in round glasses and starched shirts--six million ghosts, all of whom Markie and Bruce studied for hours on end at the Holocaust museum, cried out for replacements.  This in a religion that went out of its way not to evangelize.  Judaism was a club at once difficult to find the address of and ravenous for new membership.  Sure, it was also paternalistic, militaristic and paralysed with obsessive fossilized ritual, but the men were so apologetic, the women happily materialistic, careerist, or both.  And Markie loved the babble of the synagogue, weird warbling tone-deaf Macbeth incantations.  She loved the accessories, the beanies, the old woman shawls the men wore.  She was bitterly disappointed when she learned that Bruce's family was conservative, that her boys if she furnished them wouldn't have to wear those awesome dredlocks, My Name is Asher Lev style, that Bruce, no matter how much he conformed to his father's faith, would never need to negotiate modern transportation in the staid elegance of a eighteenth-century black suit, and that she herself would never be asked, much less required, to cover her tempting arms with drab sleeves, or her hair-of-many-colors (call it chestnut) with a pelt-like brown wig, even when in later life she might be thinning and a wig might not be such a sacrifice.  Why then, since marrying Bruce would only mean becoming Conservative, a watery substitute at best for the faith of Moses' desert nomads--why did this prospect make her feel the first stirrings of true Catholic zeal she had known since she was fifteen?  She would raise Jewish children; she wanted that and Bruce needed it.  But she herself would always be a higher order of creature with two plumages, transcendently twenty-first century, post-Judeo-Christian, without having to resort to the bad science or crappy cosmetics of New Age or thin California Buddhist theology.

     She attended Temple Bethel night school Monday-Wednesday for a year.  Bruce escorted her, patiently relearning bar mitzvah Hebrew and understanding for the first time the words of the prayers he knew by heart.  Saturday mornings were something else--these Jews were so Jewish!  Loud, friendly, rich except for the poor and middling ones.  Talked too fast, ate too much at the post-service snacks, bobbed their heads up and down, had dark hair and rings around their eyes, aimed their big sculptural neoclassical noses at one another and at Markie, except for those with small, medium sized, or fixed noses.  Wore a lot of gold.  Were just back from visiting grandparents in Arizona.  Were about to send their kids to Israel as if there weren't bombs going off on buses, in marketplaces, then were heading to Israel themselves to visit their kids.  Or were just back from Israel, sturdy and hawkish and biblical in their pronouncements.  Markie told herself that vulgar was vulgar, that the Catholics she had grown up with and gone to Our Lady of Lourdes Middle School and attended St. John's mass with were just as vulgar as these new vulgar Jews, if in an over-childrened priest-ridden less colorfully dressed sin-burdened hard drinking gossiping holier-than-thou Irish kind of way.  But it didn't work.  Catholics were normal.  Jews were foreign.  Markie had crossed enemy lines.  She was living, praying, and sleeping with people who were two-thirds Bedouin.  This was the thrill.  She was breeding half-breeds, little half-Jew babies, startling beautiful Southern Maryland Jewtroons with piercing dark eyes, fair hair, cupid's bow mouths, and tiny grandfather-initiated trust funds.  Brilliant writer-doctor babies.  She jested with dimly comprehending Bruce that it was like that joke Shaw made when he met Isadora Duncan--what if the kids end up with your aesthetic sense and my math skills?  Markie didn't care.  No one had ever understood her jokes except Reed, and he certainly understood and appreciated the long hilarious shaggy dog story of his daughter's marriage to this Jew man.  Still, in her nightmares before the children were born, she guessed she would be punished and her children with her--the boy would have sharp teeth, he would be ferocious, subtle, learning disabled.  He would bud horns, spring from the womb with round man muscles into the inadequate cage of his cradle.  At four he would become a ritalin addict, turn queer and mean after his first elementary school square dance.  The Christ of her earliest memories and fantasies, that hippie with the maiden hips, the bloody menstrual thighs and kind rock-star eyes, motherly fingers and firm hairless breasts--her gentle Jesus came in dreams at night in her second trimester, rose like a well-defined hologram when she drove her car home around the beltway, urging her to bring her love, her body, back to Him.  Babe, He called to her.  Do not give your love to this heathen circumcised internist.  But he's such a communicative nice man, she would plead.  He's very fun to cook with.  And his tribe wears bright raiments and are professionals and artists, statistically speaking, more than anybody but us.  These Jews amongst whom I pitch my tent think all the time, and are pro-choice, their kids read books way ahead of grade-level, except for the stupid or average kids.  Besides, Markie told her handsome bleeding lover Jesus, her first and forever boyfriend as she drove past the Wisconsin Ave. exit in Bruce's ancient Saab--besides, she sullenly and inarticulately declared, you Jew too.  Your seldom seen slim prick is customized too, isn't it?  We were all Jews before Your zero birthday, weren't we?  But that was then, He invisibly answers from over the Georgia Ave. exit, or even, surreally, floating beside Angel Marconi atop the Mormon franchise tabernacle--and this is now.  I suffered and died on the cross was stuck in a cave got out and rose again that you might not have to marry a Jew.  Don't think I don't remember and appreciate, Markie assures, pedal to the metal on the straightaway to the Wisconsin Ave. exit.  But Bruce's whole family, his cousins and his uncle Walter, are lovely, gentle, intellectual, hardworking.  Tell you what, Markie wheedles, rounding the ramp to Old Georgetown, why don't You save my savedness for me, like a savings account.  Save up my salvation for a rainy day, she tells her jealous first love.

     Some things continue to daunt her.  Bruce is very hairy.  He leaves black commas all over the bathroom, like a shedding printer.  Yes, his back is hairy too, though Markie can't understand why some women make such a big deal about that.  Will Bain grow up with hairy knuckles?  Will Lucy have to bleach like a Reinhart woman?  It's all very Hundred Years of Solitude.  Then, too, there's the baldness.  A bald handsome man is more handsome than an ugly guy with all his hair.  True.  Baldness does not handsomeness undo, just as homeliness is not mitigated by the presence of bangs.  Still and all, bald men disturb Markie a bit, not as themselves, but as her husband.  It is as if, Markie has told herself, you can almost see their brains.  They are surprised, perpetually, to feel those tiny drafts on their thoughts.  They have a vulnerable heavy-is-the-bald-head-that-wears-the-crown dejection about them.  I'm cold, their eyebrows say.  Their scalps live like Dracula in fear of sun.  Bald men live in anatomical, architectural ambiguity, their crania partitioned only by convention from their countenances.  Inappropriately serious when they stand holding a drink, as if they should be playing chess.  Inappropriately debonair when they make love, as if they don't realize they're no longer James Bond candidates.

     Why are Jews so often bald?  Is it from having unleavened themselves along with their bread during frequent flights?  Jews are the world's frequents flyers.  Sometimes they get away, sometimes they don't.  Their hair was simply too much of a bother during the Middle Ages.  Sorry, Hannah, no time for the blow dryer.  Roll up that Torah and let's motor.

     Of course other men bald too.  Gerald Ford, Daniel Benzali.  But Jewish men are twice bald, once for having no hair, once for being Jews.

 

 

Fish Night

 

Markie turns into the tiny Georgetown street with its joined houses and toy lawns the size of tarpaulins, even those split by walkways.  Parents should not move downtown.  They should never give up their houses in Silver Spring.  They should never require their children to sort through or take away the liquor and shoe boxes full of finger paintings report cards class pictures gimp key chains lumpy fired clay animals scrawled-on yearbooks erratically handwritten essays poems and stories, baby dishes and baby cups chipped or unchippable, faded barrettes summer dresses dolls stuffed bears and kangaroos now thin and floppy as if the stuffing evaporated over the years.  College textbooks wooden tennis rackets letters to and from camp, lunch boxes graduation tassels.  Parents should never clear attics, recover closets, turn bedrooms into guest rooms or dens.  They should never buy new kitchen tables.  They should never age, become white-haired or stooped, round-shouldered or bellied.  They should never ever become cute instead of handsome or beautiful.  Should never grow independent of children, nor take courses at night.  Kind parents, brilliant parents, oughtn't to turn out to have ideas encountered elsewhere, nor styles of clothes and choices of furniture representative of an era rather than of their own inventiveness.  They mustn't ever stop working, above all mustn't ever stop earning their unlikely to be matched yearly incomes, one part pension, one part life insurance cashed in early, one part exorbitant end-of-career fees for whatever they do.  They shouldn't go on frequent vacations, nor find themselves contently floating out of their habitual patterns of thought and behavior, writing giddy postcards in cafes on extended trips.  They shouldn’t fall in love again with each other or strangers.  They should not make new friends, especially not young friends, especially not young friends with children.  They shouldn't form sudden profound connections with strangers from unlikely places like Atlanta or Hamburg, while they are visiting high places like Nepal or parts of Mexico.  Above all, they should never develop cancers of the tissues or blood, rapid or slow, nor have strokes, minor or crippling, nor should they show signs of creeping neurological disorders.  They may, if absolutely necessary, require angioplasty, but under no condition may they have heart attacks or forwarding addresses.

     Markie parks.

     She and Bruce walk back two short blocks to her parents' new little house, she carrying Lucy, Bruce and Bain two sidewalk squares ahead, hand in hand.  Bain swings forward on the end of Bruce's arm in giant moon leaps.

     Dad is upstairs resting.  Mom holds her finger to her lips, then kisses Bain a dozen times.  She picks up Lucy and hugs Lucy's small intensely red face to her own, kisses Lucy five times and sniffs her like a loaf of bread just out, sniffs her collarbones, her chest, her scalp as if once more to immerse herself in the smell of baby that was her medium for twelve or so years.  Lenore used to move through and among babies.  They surrounded her, inside her, outside her, on all the furniture, smaller and larger babies during twelve years.  One might think Lenore would have had her fill of babies, but this is not the case.  She strolled them, rocked them, walked and talked them, juggled the slightly older against the younger.  A baby in a high chair, one on her knees, two at her feet.  Markie, with only two children and a husband well-trained, is an amateur mother beside her mother the seasoned champion.  So it shall always be, please god.  Lenore smells Lucy and presses Lucy to the sides of her face--first to her left cheek, then to her right--as if she can't believe just how much of a baby is her eleventh grandchild.  As if she can't get over the heft and round of such a one as this.  Then she hands Lucy back.

     "Hi, Mom."  They kiss.  "How is he?"

     "Tired."

     Sometimes Reed isn't dying at all.  He's contemplatively tromping through the fourth act of a wordy Shakespearean five-act life.  He's been treated, he responded well, the doctors will not say if or how long.  Those first months Markie watched him slide each half day.  Then he didn't die and winter passed, spring.  That he could give up so much mass and not go astonished her.  He stopped losing weight sometime after Markie lost the ability to imagine him so thin.  He started gaining and she started believing again.  He started to be wry.  He ate solid foods and loved and bullied his wife in the childish destructive devoted way he always had before the treatments had rendered him temporarily vacant and mild.  He returned to Georgetown in the fall and took back his Lawrence and Hardy course from the aggressive precocious teaching fellow from Hopkins who had engorged it.  He started working on his boat in the garage, doing whatever it was that had to be done every year, making it not leak.

     Still, he is dying.  Probably.  Markie sees him growing fainter.  Posing, concentrating.  Trying to get it right, being present.  He weighs in at a respectable one-forty of his old one-ninety, thirty of which was baggage.  She dreams him often, dreams of ordinariness in which she's teenage on Stratton Road, only she Terry and Declan left in the old house, Kathleen Beth Brian Miranda all at college or married or about to marry.  In the dreams Reed reads in his reading chair, or watches tv in his tv watching chair, or sleeps face down on his desk top in his basement office.  Or he's coming home from downtown, swinging his legs out of the Mercury.

     For months Markie sat where, looking at him in bed, he looked past her head at his books arranged in the built-ins.  There was the big book that was all him and the books of essays he had edited, and the ones with his chapters.  His eyes weighed output as Markie's eyes weighed him.  Then he got out of the bed and wasn't officially dying anymore.

     Markie isn't finished with him.  None of the girls are, not the big girls Kathleen Beth Miranda, not the little girls Markie and Terry.  Brian and even Dec seem to have a negotiated settlement with Dad's death.  The boys hung around the hospital bed with just a hint of resignation the girls will never know.  The girls offered up those racking sobs that are American for keening, while the boys stood, arms folded, miserably ready.

     Reed comes down into the tiny dimly lit living room filled with magazines and newspapers, books and toys.  Of the eleven grands the youngest is two months, the oldest fifteen years, and the room houses coloring books, comics, skateboard wheels, volumes of the now historic Junior Britannica.  Markie would love to see a social studies report based on this antediluvian resource.

     "Hey, bug."  Bain is received, tumbling toward Grandpa Reed's free-standing lap.

     Markie hangs back, saving herself for Reed after he manages all the rest--the grandson, the baby, the son-in-law.  Markie and Reed's love affair is endlessly overwrought.  Now their eyes meet above the chatter, he beside his lazyboy, she beside his wife.  They must pretend to be merely father and daughter.  When they meet at Georgetown, merely colleagues.  (Markie felt obliged to inform everyone, when she left the Bethesda Writer's Center faculty to take the plum, the untenured lectureship at Georgetown, that the creative writing department there was unaffiliated, was in fact entirely on the outs, with her father's English department.  Her name had counted for nothing, or had counted against her.  No one believed her.)

     Was Reed handsome?  Did he look like her?  Was his spirit transcendently fun?  Analysis had only brought Markie's passion into sharper relief.  Wasn't there a time when boys went to doctors for Oedipus relief and women, Emmas and Annas with thin fingers and spasming throats, Electra problems?  Those pastoral days were long gone.  Contemporary analysis, new and improved, girl friendly and value weightless, had liberated Markie into the fullness of her scantily buried love.  Father was embraced through memory and anecdote, hour after hour, until what?  Until seeing Reed was, well, seeing him.

     "Ralph asked about you."

     "I saw him Tuesday."

     "Did you hear the virtues of melatonin?"

     "Did I ever."

     "Now it's the," Reed sighs, "not sophisticated view of the assassination."

     "I thought of him first thing."

     "He rushed to Jerusalem.  Just picked up the phone and bought a ticket."

     "Not surprised," Markie assures.

     "Camped out.  Sang songs.  Met a sixteen-year-old sabra."

     "Jesus."

     Ralph is Georgetown's orthodox Jewish Yeats and Joyce man, a tireless Homo sapiens with that reddish kinky kind of Jew-fro, three ex-wives, and the only truly photographic memory Reed has ever come across.  Ralph, Reed marveled to Markie, remembers pages--not just passages, but position and font.  Not every page, just the ones he cares about.  But then Ralph cares about a great number of pages in many books.  Harold Bloom has a similar curse, rumor is.  Reed doesn't know Bloom, but he and Ralph are buddies.  Markie once read Ralph's thousand page manuscript about growing up in the Bronx and discovering Irish literature sex and Catholic girls at Bronx Science, while training at night for the rabbinate.  Ralph writes fiction and poetry and then hides it.  He's Henry Miller crossed with middle Joyce, with a side order of Twain.  Ralph loves dialect.  Markie churned through his unpublished novel and assured him he should just slap a title on it--he had been working on the mammoth for thirty years.  This was right after her own first book appeared, when people started handing her manuscripts.  She relishes the role and eats up hand-delivered texts.  Self-portraits, mirrors.  Markie inherited from Reed the credo he modified from Plato that everyone should write one book, paint one painting, build one boat, raise one child, play one instrument.  He raised seven kids but insists on the principle.  He published his one book on Lawrence and Hardy (he has long described himself as a Laurel and Hardy expert at cocktail parties) in sixty-three.  That one book, in those golden times, garnered tenure.  He has written only articles and chapters since.

     "What?" he asks.  Markie is staring at him, making a face.

     "Fish night," she repeats.  For years it was fish sticks with lots of ketchup (boys)  and tartar sauce (girls).  Finally prepubescent Kathleen joined Lenore and Reed in a filet of broiled something or other, and sheer curiosity forced all the girls, even Markie, only five at the time and a sworn fish hater, to taste a forkful.  Turned out all the girls loved fish.  They ate even the gamier blues and monks, when Lenore could find them, broiled with lemon juice and halved white grapes.  The boys never abandoned Mrs. Paul's in a blaze of Heinz.

     They all crowd into the kitchen.  Reed mixes and shakes.  Let me have the tiniballs, Markie used to plead before she knew the word olive.  Gin is as mother's milk to her, Reed confided to the other junior faculty in the living room at the parties he and Lenore often hosted.  Somehow the Molloy's couch and hi-fi were better than anybody else's.  The department evenings were very Albee, ending in bloodless battlefields of new critical oneupmanship, flirtations between husbands and other men's wives that would never progress to adultery.  Markie adores her father's scientific furrowing of the brow, his concentration on temperature and vermouth titration.  Bruce tries to join in but never drinks quite right.  Jews of course alcoholics like everybody else, but as social drinkers often pretty pathetic, with a self-destructive air instead of nonchalance.  Reed shakes, pours, and sniffs with the gaze of an explorer on the high seas that Markie has found irresistible since her first tiniball.  Was she two?  Leaning against his knees next to the short brown Frigidaire, maybe two-thirds the height of a modern white behemoth?  Now as then Reed squints, grimaces, flashes that smile.  Yes, damn it, his hundred-forty pounds argue, still here, still a man.  Markie wants to die, right now.  Would that keep him going?  Would that join them?  Then Bain, attached to his grandmother's ass, staggers step by step across the Florentine tiled mini-kitchen.  Lenore's making a salad.  Lucy, against Markie's belly in Markie's arms, lifts and shits, her grimace blooming then fading.  Markie decides that she will never write about her father.  Never Reed.

 

 

Beth and Bill walk over with Lisa and Seth during dessert.  Markie has always found it obscene that they moved around the corner from the new house almost as soon as Reed and Lenore bought it.  Beth said in first grade she wanted to live right next door to Mom and Dad when she grew up and she has cold-bloodedly accomplished this along with her other goals.

     "Hey Polo," Beth tells her.  Markie hugs her older sister.  "Pregnant again?"

     "Just fat," Markie tells her.  But Markie isn't fat and Beth is a bitch.  She was already at five.  Markie remembers clearly her own third birthday party.  There was a cake.  Beth stepped up from her chair to the table while Reed and Lenore were busy and put her patent leather foot in the middle of the as yet unlit candles.  Attempts at reconstruction were unsuccessful.

     "Bruce looks tired."

     "I hate you you conniving cunt," Markie whispers.

     "What?"

     "I said don't you wish you'd been here for fish night?"

     Another fruit of analysis, the ability to despise freely, like a Borgia plotting horrible death for the invitees at his banquet.  Beth makes the fish face.

     "Yummy?" she asks.

     "Snapper.  Bring me that one," Markie calls to Bill, who carries Lisa, seven and too big for carrying.  Bill is a ghoul.  He should be a forensic pathologist, not a structural engineer.

     Markie and Lisa read One Hundred and One Dalmatians over Lucy's sleeping head.  They eat instant strawberry short cake--graham crackers, Redy-whip, almost unfrozen strawberries.  They have always done this together, read and eat, since before Lisa could talk.  There is an understanding between them.  What can Aunt Markie say?  Your mother is a traitorous lowlife?  Your father is going to try to molest you one day, keep a knife by you?  No need.  Lisa understands all.  She and Markie are allies, terms unspecified.  One day Lisa may seek shelter under Markie's roof.

     Lenore and Beth carry off dishes, Beth positioning herself as helpful sister as automatically as Markie ignores her and resigns herself to the role of selfish sister.  Reed must have known that something had gone wrong when he sired this third child.  How soon did he realize?  Richard Third was born with sharp teeth.  What to do.  Postpartum madness is perhaps sometimes simply the wake-up call when one learns that one has brought a bad one into the world.  Perhaps Reed and Lenore told themselves that six out of seven isn't too bad, and that in another generation everything would straighten itself out.

     It didn't.  Seth is not right.  His brain makes his face do less than it should.  He lists.  Lenore has hinted that testing may be in order.  She knows about these things from her U. Chicago early childhood ed days, and she spotted trouble in the first month.  Scented actually, she told Markie.  Beth threw a tantrum that lasted four months.  Nothing was wrong with her baby.  They were all trying to make her crazy.  Markie hadn't seen such a display of power since Kathleen's wedding, when it was Beth who got to ride in Uncle Rob's Lincoln Continental and to wear the white dress.  This time Markie and all of them are easily persuaded.  The specter of whatever isn't right in Seth needn't be investigated too soon.  What could anyone do differently?  The eight-month-old isn't going off to a special boarding school.  Seth's fate, Beth's denial, has brought Markie as close to compassion for this sister as she will come.

     Seth, in his high chair, looks around the room.  Reed comes and puts his fingers in the boys' ears, then in his fists.  Markie reads.

     "As Perdita and I tried to form a plan, two of the puppies began arguing.  Lucky ran over to us, half covered in soot.  'Dad, Patch pushed me into the fireplace,' he complained.'"

     Reed crouches in front of the boy, loudly speaking baby non-language and making eyebrows.  Seth is barely attentive.  Beth checks the room, sees there's no more to clear.  Bruce crawls in from the kitchen with Bain firmly saddled on his back.

 

 

Thursday Just Past Eleven

 

Markie floats in a turbulent white sea.  January sunlight pierces the glass wall opposite her after passing through a couple of spindly garden pines.  Lucy sleeps in her car pod at the wall's base, far from water.  Bain is across Rockville at Markie's republican friend Thea's house, playing with Thea's lanky Siddhartha.  Bruce is downtown at work for what seems a few minutes--he walks out the door in the morning, soon he walks in again and it's dark.  On paper he's been gone ten hours.  The mystery replays itself every weeknight.

     Beside Markie in the kiddie pool a lone mother wades with her two-year-old clinging to her like a lemur.  Mom cream-and-honey, baby flax-and-frosting, both bored with each other.  All wet with no place to go, waiting for the talent scouts.  Meanwhile round and round the mushroom fountain (the fountain mushroom-shaped, water spilling off the curved cap), mom in postpartum dried rose one-piece with cross-straps, baby stuffed into rubber pants.

     Markie recalls her own Bain days when new motherhood was just one long date, sometimes the best damn date with lots of cooing and excitement, giggling and eyelash batting, indescribably good times that only two can share, that nobody else can get in on, not even other mothers, certainly not a dad.  Other times an errand, the chemistry just not there, Markie or Bain or both not up to being out together.  Today's mom and little precious pretend to be in heaven, but they're in the pool.  Mom crooning dipping and splashing, boy wiggling squeaking and waving.  Method acting.

     The Montgomery County Aquatic Center is a watering hole for all stages of life.  In the kiddie pool Markie admires rehabilitation for injured adults, developmentally handicapped elementary schoolers with their helpers.  Next door in the Olympic pool, water aerobics classes churn to the stand-up comedy of a woman with a cordless mic strapped to her head.  In the afternoon all-county divers practice from forty foot platforms.  On Saturdays in the weight room, on the far side of the dressing room, Markie stretches out while deaf teenage girls do all the usual posing and carrying on in signs.  Someday Markie intends to use the Center as the center of a novel.  The story will open at the pool with, say, deaf teenage girls weight lifting and gossiping--all in high cut spandex, hair back or down or carefully flipped.  Telling finger jokes about some buff deaf or loud boy they're sweet on.  The book will return often to the pool, a new mother slowly circling the mushroom with her date.  Not this mother and child.  Markie and Bain.

     With both hands, Markie caresses herself beneath her suit.  Her knees emerge red from the foam.  At home she would be on her belly pressing down on her hand, the way she first came at twelve on the humming handle of an electric toothbrush.  This is obviously out of the question here.  Across the tub from her is a handsome forty-something, who spends his mornings reading the Post, his feet hot-tubbing.  Markie watches Lucy's feet, beyond the man's sloping silhouette, emerge from her pod, pigeon-toe toward one another, arch upwards toward her mouth.  Markie would never have known this leisure when Bain was ten months.  Bain was a little Bruce, either asleep or loudly lonely.  Do men come to Earth filled with ceaseless want and scant powers of independence?  Markie has read Dinnerstein.  She has read Gilligan, Chodorow, and Millett.  Levi-Strauss, Chomsky.  She reads the Times science pages.  She recently read De Beauvoir's She Came to Stay--she was thinking about getting a sixteen-year-old au pair from Denmark, but after De Beauvoir she stuck with Polly, homely thing from down the street, and bought herself clogs instead.  She's even read or interpolated Irigaray and Kristeva.  Sexual difference is in vogue in the nineties, that much is clear, but Markie, for inherited reasons, doesn't buy it.  She finds predetermined difference suspect and disappointing, despite the weight of propaganda and the avalanche of observation that daily assails her in the laboratory of her own home.  Markie remembers Aunt Ellen's stance from that more cheerfully militant feminist age when MS. was in its heyday, when Billie Jean King was as muscularly closeted as Navratalova is swashbucklingly out.  Thou shalt not assume, Markie hears her bob-haired makeup-less thirty-seven-year-old maternal aunt command, that thou canst tell how early, or how unconsciously, thou might screw up thy girl or boy.  Ellen was talking to her sister Lenore, but it was Markie who was listening.  She must have been about ten.  Markie clings to Ellen's credo.  Boys and girls are much the same until proven absolutely unlike in every respect, perhaps not even then.  A shadowy hint of superiority in one child's gross motor skills or the other's language abilities is insignificant.  Markie's athletic unmusical cheerfully dominant son runs around all day long yelling and exploring space, and her tiny daughter is already a thoughtful peaceful creator and language poet, and still Ellen holds sway.

     She accelerates and concentrates on the man's neck.  Why are athletic men's necks so fuckable?  They can't actually be fucked, obviously.  One doesn't insert an attractive fellow's head into oneself, although after two deliveries the fantasy is more credible than previously.  A gentle, intelligent face, like this man’s, is a bonus.  Turtles' heads, atop their delicately unrolling napes, also hold interest.  Leather carrying cases for small apparatuses--black flashlights, beepers, cellular phones--these are a few of Markie's favorite things.

     Markie wants to make the man talk.  To see his lips and tongue go.  She will come while carrying on a conversation, a game she ranks with Boggle.  She always comes, alone or partnered, in darkness and silence or at midday in public.  Some women aren't like that.  Some women make love to themselves or somebody else for an hour and then just quit.  This, to Markie, is like shopping and cooking all day, then freezing everything.  Doesn't happen.

     "Hot today," the man says, setting his paper on the tiles beside him.  He removes his reading glasses.  He looks like a lower court judge.  "I don't know how you stand it."

     He talks Northern Virginia.  The bottoms of his feet are sculpturally arched--good feet.  Most men have feet like sunken logs, numb pointless feet.  But not Markie's best ones.  Hers have wicked fine metatarsals.  Markie loves nibbling, tickling herself with feet.  Michael, Markie's Graduate School Love Tragedy, had feet Markie rode by the quarter hour.

     "That your little girl?"

     "Lucy."

     "How old--"

     "Ten months."

     "Darling."

     Markie feels it start.  Her (vagina and clit--Markie's preferred out-loud term is actually still the name her mother taught her when she was two) twinky are activating.  Lucy will learn that she has an ensemble of female parts collectively known as her twinky, when she's old enough to care, just as Bain refers casually to his winky.  Markie's twinky is still a little estranged from Lucy's big moment.   She had focused all her anxiety on Bain, who was three hours and change and was just very very painful but, surprise, twenty-two months later, Lucy ripped Markie right open.  She felt the tear reach her clit and screamed with a tremendous Arena Stage authority.  Simultaneously she booted her resident, on his rolling stool, halfway across the room.  She caught him with a sterile footsie on each shoulder.  He was nice enough in a ignorant clumsy sort of way, but he had with enormous ill-timing requested that Markie stop pushing just at that most excruciating moment, apparently so he could do something farfetched and prophylactic to crowning Lucy.  When she recounts the episode, Markie still sees his mute masked mouth and outstreched hands, his wide eyes rolling away from her toward M Street.  The nurse, sturdy little body, caught Lucy on the fly.

     Fucking Bruce is much the same as erstwhile.  His winky is of sufficient caliber that when they really want each other, she finds him gaily tropical-fruitish, slightly outlandish and ugly, in the best sense.  Like a green banana hybridized with a papaya.  When only he wants her she finds him bureaucratic and vainglorious, at once irritating and presumptuous.  And small.  Did she mention small?  Two deliveries have changed nothing.  Twinkies were always big for winkies, right from the first.  Relative to the head of an eight-pound-four-ounce girl baby, winkies aren't news.

     "My sister's Lucille."

     "We named Lucy after Lucille Ball."

     A lie.  Markie hates I Love Lucy, which represents all that is wrong in the previous generation that isn't covered by The Honeymooners.  But saying whatever comes into her head is part of the poetic license she grants herself when approaching orgasm.  Bruce just liked the name and it was his turn to pick.  Before Bain was born, Markie and Bruce flipped a coin and Markie won.  So Markie named Bain Bain, end of discussion, which was about as Jewish as Lane.  She fully expected Sarah or Naomi in retaliation, but Bruce pulled a fast one on her and picked Lucy just to prove ethnic openness and moral superiority.

     "You have kids?"

     "Four," the man informs her.  He points his right foot over the water.  His arch doesn't quite make the grade.

     "These days?"

     "It's not easy," he admits, though Markie has now completely forgotten what they are talking about.  He is a secret agent, an injured track star.  Markie blinks once hard.

     "You here pretty often?"

     "Doctor's orders," she says.

     "Back?"

     "I used to fly."

     What, she wonders, does that mean?  He seems satisfied.  He picks up his paper and walks the periphery of the tub.  Water courses off his calves and ankles.  Markie comes and comes.

     "Emmett."

     "Markie," she says just a heartbeat late, liberating her right hand to meet the one he offers.  Lucy's foot waves halloo!

 

 

What Bruce Thinks When He Looks At Markie Dressing For The Evening

 

Bruce looks at Markie dressing for the evening and goes hot and cold in his belly and his balls.  His throat slow swallows; his brain is light, his heart heavy.  There is in his mind a perfect age for woman--he has never known this, and now he discovers the prejudice.  Markie's age.  Markie meanders their bedroom in her underwear, dressing for her friend and rival Annie Dawid's reading and reception at Prose and Poetry.  There is the viola of her hips from the front.  The violin of her back from above.  The cello of her bottom from behind.  She is trio, her hair feathery and ploofed above and behind her.  What is it about women this almost-forty age?  With children, with or without husbands?  He moves toward them wherever he sees them, in the houses of friends, in the waiting room of his practice.  His advances are not sexual but merely maneuvers to draw nearer.  Women with eyes full of information, irritation, tolerance.  Women who know what the hell's going on.  With arms efficiently relaxed when not holding, pushing away, carrying.  With unlipsticked lips practiced at tasting, lips that compress in sudden silences and widen in welcome. 

     Their clothes draw him.  Old clothes, newcomers, favorites and not-yet-sures.  That sweater Markie holds to herself historic, that skirt last winter's budget buster.  Markie--inside her clothes, inside her thoughts, dressing, calculating, imagining how the evening will go, whom she will see at the reading (the Writer's Center crowd, the Glen Echo auxiliary), deciding, as she moves from dresser to half length mirror to full mirror and back to closet, what she wants her clothes to do at this event.  Markie entirely preoccupied with the probable but also taken up with distant possibilities.  His now and not at all his, as usual.  She knows he's there and she accommodates him with a look, brushes her hand across his shoulder as she passes.  Will they fuck before they go?  Not a chance.  Polly will ring the doorbell, wake Bain from his nap, put Bain's chicken pot pie in the oven and clang it closed, any minute, as soon roughly as Markie makes her final cut and lays the chosen outfit on the foot of the bed atop the folded comforter.  He looks and sucks in his breath and thinks, Well, there's no end to all this, whatever happens.  Included in this thought is that it's Friday and there's the weekend, and also that Markie, dressing, is the one who will take care of him in his old age, though in theory (why does he wonder this?--not for anything thing she has ever said or indicated, even when he's been not much fun for a week) she may leave him tomorrow, steal his children, his boy, his Mazda.  No.  He will leave her when the children are grown, or they will stay together and have more children, always more, a new set for every ten-year census.  There will become ancient and foolish.  The children will go to high school and college.  He and Markie will stare at each other across the ever larger bed (they'll have a king by then), over the by then scarred and stained dining room table, avoiding each other's eyes on their way in and out of rooms.  They'll have property then, not debt.  A shelf of family videos, the children's marriages to wait until.  They will be incapable of change.  Their love will know its own way around the house, out to the store, back home again, like the farmer's horse. 

     Markie is taking everything off--the wicked Victorian skirt, the uncomfortable but worth it shoes.  She's starting again from scratch.  She dresses for four different evenings, three of which will not be.  Bruce, in the chair by the door, really the desk chair, which floats into the bedroom from the office, Bruce prepares for a number of lives, most of which he culls and discards.  Her back is a contour map of futures.  Her legs are pillars of impossible monogamy.  Her belly--she's going down into a drawer with both hand, squatting to dig through scarves and panty hose--her belly is...what?  Concave mirror he licked his way across to her cunt past all those boys who could have taken her away, that first month in his ultra-modern apartment, cartons of takeout and the call beeper on the white bed table, the two of them fucking every four hours night and day, or just all afternoon, whatever they had.  That belly that somehow ballooned and tautened until seeing it made Bruce hold his breath all that last trimester, tenanting Bain, then Lucy, those two planets that have rooted themselves in bedrooms.  That belly that cushions Bruce's right hip when he lies on his back (his on the starboard side, closer to the window, Markie securing herself against drafts, closer to the phone), cushions the small of his back when he lies on his left and tucks backwards into her.

 

The End

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