White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
WHITE WHALE REVIEW
LOUIS GALLO
Louis Gallo's work has appeared in American Literary Review, Glimmer Train, Texas Review, New Orleans Review, Baltimore Review, Portland Review, The Ledge (Pushcart nominee), The Journal, Greensboro Review, Rattle, Clapboard House, Oregon Literary Review, Raving Dove, storySouth, Xavier Review, Missouri Review and many others. He teaches at Radford University in Virginia. His story "Cave" appeared in issue 1.2 of White Whale Review

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THE TAO OF SELF-HELP

Louis Gallo

It burns May up that her decrepit seventy-seven-year-old mother still reads self-improvement manuals. "You're too old to improve," May has chided often enough. "Improvement takes eons, like geology." Harriet always counters with her bit about not having time to improve in the past. Her latest idol is this Deepak Chopra, who says, according to Harriet, that we never have to die. "Oh yeah, Mom," May snorts, "tell it to Mildred Self. Remember, our cousin or something who died last week?" For some reason May has become obsessed with Mildred Self, a woman she never really liked. Mildred Self always smelled like mushrooms. She has never before paid much attention to death, but its sheer arrogance now enrages her. "Where was God?" she wonders. It's enough to keep track of her own new aches and pains, none of which existed before she turned thirty. "When I made thirty," she's told Willie, "the contagion began." Even so, May tries not to think of herself as old. She clicks off the Weather Channel whenever Harriet leaves it on. Old people love weather.

 

From the window she spots her mother outside puttering around the herb garden. Harriet especially likes the jalapeno pepper bush Willie planted in April and she checks for new buds every morning. The peppers are way too hot. Stupid Willie popped the first of the crop into his mouth whole a few weeks ago and nearly died. He scurried around the kitchen in circles panting and screeching. Finally he stuffed his mouth with Dannon coffee yogurt and slushed it around for a while.

"Something wrong with those peppers," he shook his head as the fire subsided.

"It's the capsaicin," said Harriet. "That's the hot chemical. Deepak Chopra says it's good for you if you're Vata. They even sell it in capsules."

"What's Vata?" Willie asked.

"It's sort of your personality, the way your doshas line up. Vatas are cold all the time. Like you, the way you used to wear those gloves inside during winter."

"Yeah, but I cut off the fingertips so I can do things. That counts, doesn't it? Besides, I've learned you fight cold with cold.


"Deepak says cold people should eat peppers. Or you could sprinkle some cayenne into Vaseline Intensive Care and rub it into your feet."

"I'm not going near one of those wretched jalapeños again, no way. I'd just as soon light a match in my mouth. Try one, Harriet."

"I'm Vata-Pita myself, that's when you're a little of both personality types. May is that other one but she's imbalanced. I'm glad I'm not the May one. They're prone to mucous."

May remembers Harriet's perturbed glance slipping over her glasses. Their disapproval is mutual. "Am I the only practical one left in this household?" she wails. "Willie wanders off into the woods to beat a drum, Mother wears leotards—at her age—and hums OHM . . . who's going to wash the dishes or change light bulbs?" Harriet was into Edgar Cayce when May first took the liberty to express her misgivings. She'd made her drive her to the health food store to buy a little bottle of myrrh tincture. "Edgar recommends it," she said smugly. May cannot stand the way Harriet

calls gurus by their first names. Whenever she hears Edgar or Deepak she wants to smash something, an egg maybe. She looked at the tiny bottle of myrrh, which cost thirteen dollars, with disdain. "We could have used that money to help pay the mortgage," she sighed. Just what does Harriet do with all the social security she stashes away? She and Willie only extract twenty-five dollars a month from her, which amounts to nothing, and they can barely meet expenses what with all the debts from Willie's second marriage to that witch Jan, queen of icebergs. Oh, why had Willie ever met her? During divorce proceedings she shacked up with the lawyer and Willie didn't have a chance.

"It was a test" is all Willie says. "I had to pay off some bad karma from previous lives."

May sees it as old-fashioned prostitution. And she doesn't believe in previous lives. Come to think, she doesn't believe in anything. Why should she believe in anything? Where's the evidence?

"Look at that five-thousand-year-old frozen man," Willie says.


"So?" May snorts. "Another corpse. The planet is littered with corpses."

"Make every day your eternity," Willie smiles beatifically and wanders out somewhere.

And now they, in effect, live apart. Nothing official, just apart. He comes around every day and often spends the night, and nothing seems radically different, but still. . . May wants certainty, she craves certainty. She sees no point whatever to the teepee Willie has erected out in the woods, where he spends a lot of time now. He claims he's part of the Paleolithic Revival. Everything is alive, he says, spirits are everywhere. He spends hours talking to rocks and trees. He tells her about the flock of wild geese that invited him to become part of their family. "They didn't fly away like they usually do," he beams, "they studied me a little and then hobbled forward. When I sat down, the geese were almost taller than I was. I became a goose for a while, May, it was great. And some people want to shoot them. This civilization is in big trouble. Ego! Millions of little plastic egos colliding like billiard balls. The geese have a collective mind, what we

had during the Stone Age until the tyrant ego emerged. You can have my ego, I don't want it."

May doesn't want Willie's ego either and resigns herself to the fact that he has gone crazy. Willie contends that he used to be crazy but is now saner than ever before in his life. "When I was your age," he tells May, "I was out of my gourd." She has tried to persuade him to see a counselor, but he dismisses counselors as part of the cultural pollution he wants to avoid. "I was one of them," he argues, "when I worked for the state. I paid my dues, jumped through hoops, bought the whole shebang. Where did it get me? Panic attacks. Remember, I couldn't even get out of bed for a month?"

"And your drum has changed all that?" May smirks.

"Not just the drum," he sighs dramatically, "the drum is minor. We're talking about a new way of life. Actually, a very old way of life. We're talking reverence, getting attuned to the sacred, deep ecology. If you'd only try—"

"So you're a cave man now?"


"I curse time and progress and what it's done to us all. It's not just me, May, there are lots of us scattered around all over the country. We've seceded from the modern era. We're tiny municipalities among ourselves. No more bank accounts and credit cards for this hombre, no more numbers, no more wristwatches, no telephones or computers. Mock all you want, I'm happier. When I see you I see a gerbil running the tick-tock treadmill. That used to be me too. No more. Now I just build a fire, beat the drum and go into a trance. Time is a thing of the past."

"You sure hang out around here a lot."

"Don't be cruel, May. I want to help out. I can't just abandon what we've accumulated. Believe me, if it weren't for you I'd be long gone."

"It's not the same."

"How many times have I invited you to come out and live in the teepee?"

They've hashed it out dozens of times, always getting nowhere. May has no desire to live in a teepee or induce trances. She feels proud of her Visa card, has even memorized the account

number. She likes running water and cable television and her spiffy new Altima. What's an ulcer or two, given the rewards? Harriet tells her Deepak says all diseases and disorders are spiritual. He says bad thoughts transform into evil molecules that try to kill you, which is why Harriet wears a leotard—to do her yoga exercises and restore balances. "Balance in the doshas is the answer. Look at you all slouched over. If I weren't your mother," she growls at May, "I'd think you were older than I am."

May feels surrounded by oldness. She's even an old sign, Virgo; what could be older than Virgo? She can't vacuum enough to clear the house of cobwebs and dust. She was born when her mother was nearly her own age now. Willie claims he saw a vision of himself ten thousand years ago, one of his previous lives. "Maybe the first," he says, "it may have been the first time my soul incarnated itself. I saw you there too, May. We were married even way back then. We squatted by a bonfire, ashes smeared into our faces. The whole tribe squatted by the fire with some apprehension. Something lurked out there in the night, a predator maybe. We softly beat the drum and sang songs from the ancestors."


She's sorry, no thank you, May is adamant, she is not ten thousand years old. "I'm still young, I like my house, I like my job even if it wears me down to the bone—hi ho—, I like Microsoft. And no, Mother, I won't do yoga with you. I'm an American, we do liposuction. Oh-o say can you see. I'm not only the President of the Hair Club for Men, I'm also a client. Lass-ie! Seven out of ten dentists recommend—"

May breaks down and actually bawls. Standing in the middle of her swanky new living room, atop the Congoleum, she sheds very primitive salt tears. "It's like Willie and my mother should get married! He's got this rock that tells him stories! She's got tinctures and negative ion generators! What do I have?"

"You've got a lot," her mother says, trudging into the room. "Everything you always wanted or a lot of it anyway."

"So why don't you give me more money to help pay the bills? You have free reign of the house now that Willie's out in that stupid teepee—"

"If I were younger I'd be out in a teepee too,

maybe not a teepee, one of those pyramid things. Willie's a little crude t you ask me—"

"Don't bash Willie again. He let you live with us and now he's gone. Maybe he's gone because of you."

Harriet chuckles as she hobbles on to the kitchen.

"Not me, dearie," she says, "maybe it's because you didn't fulfill him. And from what I see he's not really gone."

Stung to the core, May rushes out of the room, out of the house and locks herself in the Altima. She pushes a button and REM's "Losing My Religion" resounds, loud enough to drown her thoughts. She touches her head to the steering wheel and sings along, " . . . oh no, not at all."

 

May works a civil service position in City Hall and scrutinizes the community bulletin board every morning. She sees a poster for something called Women's Support Group and decides to give


it a try. It meets half an hour after she gets off in the building's basement where, she hazily remembers, they have set up a kind of lounge. She goes through the day mechanically staring at a PC screen. She tries not to think about her mother; they have not spoken since the incident yesterday. She cannot admit that she might actually hate her mother, her own mother after all, but she has thought about doctoring the myrrh with some Drano. Imagine, tincture of myrrh—what the wise men brought. Something out of the Bible. Nobody drinks or eats myrrh any more, they drink Perrier and eat sushi. Above all, May is modern—and cool. "I'm so beautifully cool," she smiles at herself in the mirror of the staff bathroom, which is lined with Italian marble and has art deco fixtures. She remains in fact an attractive woman with blue-black hair and molten red lipstick. She still turns heads. Even the mayor glanced at her the other day and word is he can get any woman he wants. So how could she not fulfill Willie? He isn't even political. He taught classes in marketing at the community college before he quit mid-semester last month. The college has threatened to sue.

"Let them," he whistled, "I no longer exist. They can sue a ghost? The old Willie has shed his skin."

In some ways she knows life goes a lot smoother without Willie around all the time. She does not have to listen to his eternal pronouncements and can dress like a frump. He never really noticed how she dressed one way or another, but she always felt obliged to look cute or sexy or impressive in some way. Now she can strut about in old bras and panties and not worry about cellulite or bulges. She wonders if Willie has found another woman. It didn't seem likely but who knows—maybe he's taken up with some young hippie girl out in the woods, some bimbo who swoons over his every word. "Philosophy runs out," May mumbles to herself as she returns to her office.

"Say what?" asks an old black janitor standing against the corridor wall drinking a Coke.

May starts, looks at the man's inflamed, swollen eyes, and walks on, high heels clicking like hailstones. "Nothing," she calls back, "talking to myself."


“Always two side the same coin,” he says, his voice resonant and pious.

"You can follow Jesus or Deepak Chopra or anybody for a while," she continues as she reaches her desks and thumps the surface with her fingers, "but then it fizzles. I remember thinking Willie knew everything. After a while I could predict his every snort."

"Talking to yourself again, May?" laughed Gloria, a few desks away.

"Oh, hey Glo . . . yeah, I'm in a state."

Gloria leans back in her spine-align chair and pops a gigantic cherry sip into her mouth. She waves her hand in dismissal. "You need chocolate."

"Oh, sure," May snorts, scanning Gloria's massive torso. May thinks Gloria resembles a gigantic bowling pin.

"It's true, hon. I read in a magazine that chocolate cures the blues. Hooks on receptors in the brain, something like that. So here I am, voila." She pops another sip into her mouth and turns back to a computer screen.

May plunges into her work and hopes she can distract herself, make time zoom ahead of itself. But the day proceeds gruelingly slow. She takes a few coffee breaks, visits the bathroom a number of times, calls the weather forecast number, listens to her Walkman, anything she can think of to break the monotony. She notices that the little bubbly bumps on her palms and fingers have begun to recede; they used to itch like crazy and there's no cure. A dermatologist told her years ago they were related to stress.

"I don't want stress!" she cries aloud, startling Gloria who had fallen asleep at her machine.

Gloria squints and rubs the folds of flesh surrounding her eyes, then reaches for her box of cherry sips.

"Oh, give me one too," May cries, knocking the chair aside with her buttocks and lurching toward Gloria.

She inserts the entire sip into her mouth and chews vehemently. It tastes like heaven, not like the tofu crap Harriet always tries to make her eat.


She longs to sink her teeth into a chocolate slab the size of a brick.

"Just a little pleasure," she wails, "I don't ask for much."

"None of us do, hon," Gloria burps.

"I work hard."

"Join the club."

"It isn't fair."

"Who said—"

"Don't say 'Who said life is fair?' Gloria. Just don't say it. If I hear it I'll staple your mouth shut."

She brandishes the staple gun on Gloria's desk to show that she means business.

"My, aren't we violent today," Gloria snaps. She clutches the box of cherry sips and waddles away for some coffee.

 

At five-thirty May descends an old wooden elevator to the basement. Her nerves have

deteriorated and her hands tremble. I need something, she repeats to herself, something big. She looks through the lounge door window but no one has arrived, so she walks in and plops onto an old plaid sofa that stinks of mildew. She throws her head back and sighs gloriously. She remembers a scene from years before in her marriage, before Harriet moved in, when Willie moped at the kitchen counter as he sliced the fuzzy skins off three or four kiwis. May had resolved to ignore him though the intense field of misery he exuded had always attracted her. There were even tears in his eyes! Shostakovitch seeping into his ears from the Walkman. He said Shostakovitch wrote it as his own requiem as he lay dying. Willie knows things like that. He could go on "Jeopardy." The tears distracted him from anxiety over his blood pressure, not that he had anything to worry about. She did not tell him about the strange new, almost exquisite pain throbbing in her joints. He would just say he's endured such pain for years, that he'd had it before she was even born. Willie always uses his age that way. May cannot have a symptom of her own, ever.


At the moment she wants to relieve herself from the blood pressure ordeal of the previous night. Every full moon Willie still holed himself up in the study to work on their finances. He felt that was only fair. The night before, after an hour or so of intense concentration, he took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes with his knuckles and rotated his neck, which is when he spotted the blood pressure gizmo atop a pile of books. He'd forgotten all about it. He had ordered it from Texaco, one of those advertising flaps attached to envelopes, thirteen dollars a month. May could only admire it because all you had to do was stick your index finger through a little hole. Willie said everyone should check their pressure now and then just in case. It had killed his father after all—massive stroke, projectile vomiting, a sudden catastrophe that wrenched his entire family askew for years. May had first met Willie around that time, nearly ten years ago. She admired his capacity for grief, his inclination to suffer.

Willie said he didn't need the machine and boasted about how low his blood pressure always was. "Most guys my age," he gloated, "are bombs

waiting to explode." It was true. May knew the statistics. But the previous night . . . he floated pale and limply into the living room, where she sat on the sofa reading an article about a flesh-eating virus that had already claimed five lives in the state. You could watch it consume your body an inch per hour, the article said. The first symptoms were pain in the joints and a feeling a general malaise, the symptoms of everything. May had instinctively clutched one hand with the other and squeezed when Willie came in.

"May," he said, "my blood pressure has sky-rocketed!" He looked absolutely dazed, mystified, beside himself. "I was just sitting there. It's usually around 117 over 80, but look —"

May took the device and squinted at the digital screen: 149/98.

"I was just sitting at the desk," he moaned. "I've never had blood pressure so high. Suddenly, I'm dying. Out of the blue, May, Jesus and the angels are in the sky."


May told him it was a fluke, which she truly believed. "The finances did it," she said. "Everybody knows worrying about money raises blood pressure, but if you want I'll call Dan and ask what he thinks."

Dan is their bother-in-law, a military cardiologist stationed in San Antonio. An image of Dan's calm face drifted across Willie's brain like a cloud.

Then he made May take her blood pressure to see if the batteries were on their way out. Maybe the machine had broken. May's readings never changed—so low she joked she was theoretically dead. Willie had always said he envied her blood pressure, but May had consulted the flow charts in medical directories and knew it was abnormal. "No strokes for me," she would whimper, "only comas." And once again the gizmo bore her out: 99/65!

"It can't be," Willie cried, "it's not possible. The machine is broken."

Which did not stop him from pacing the room, wringing his hands and cursing the universe. Finally

he flung himself beside May on the sofa and gave her a squeeze. That was his way—initial shock, hysterical flailing, then love. Symptoms kept them close.

"I love you Masie," he whispered into her neck.

May did not like "Masie." It reminded her of corn. But she could not resist his warm breath and supple, moist yearning.

She peered over his shoulder and saw the ad for Nordic Track on TV. First the guy who wasn't shallow and didn't have to work out every day, then the girl in leotards who wasn't an airhead. All you need is $69 a month. And teenaged hormones, May smiled sadly.

Then the phone rang and May pushed Willie aside to answer. She knew he wouldn't answer; Willie never answered the telephone. Willie could tell by May's first word that it was Dan's wife Karlie, May's sister, calling from the Alamo. Karlie must have had way too much edge in her voice, because May pulled over a chair, propped an elbow on the


kitchen table and breathed heavily into the headpiece.

"He did it again," Karlie told May, "he called and told me Armageddon was on its way and the kids wouldn't survive. Why does he do it? Why can't we have a normal father? I know Armageddon isn't coming, but it gets to me all the same. Know what I mean, Sis? We were all sitting around having a pleasant meal of Sphagetti-O's, the only time all day they weren't pulling out their hair and screeching . . . and he calls. I can't take it. Dan is gone all day at the hospital. I need a break. I need a life. Just a massage, I'll take a massage."

May soothes her sister as usual—May can soothe anyone, it's her voice Willie always says, a voice like meadows—by laughing it off. And offering a little tidbit of her own. "You think that's bad," she giggles, "Willie's mother called Saturday night. She told him that Liz, that's Willie's niece, had another dream about her grandfather. They called him Paw. You know the story. Lots of unresolved mourning, sightings, visitations. Remember how Willie had to rush out of their house that time because he said his

father's spirit soared through the place. They're all still haunted."

"Anyway, Paw appeared to Liz in a dream. She was terrified. She said he looked transparent and wore this white gown. He actually glowed. He moved toward her, mumbled something and pointed his finger in admonition. 'What?' Liz asked, 'What did you say?' Paw wagged his finger and said, 'Open a cheese-cake deli.' 'Do what?' Liz whimpered. 'Open a cheese-cake deli,' Paw repeated as he faded from view."

 

May wants to remember more but feels something or someone tugging at her knee. She comes to and finds an ancient lady with long white hair bent over her body, staring into her eyes.

"Are you all right, child? Did you come for the meeting? You really ought to wipe off that awful lipstick."

"I like Willie the old way," she mumbles, "it was nice. We had symptoms together."


"Now, now," the woman purrs, "don't get nostalgic on us. That's our first order of business—crushing nostalgia out of our systems."

"Who are you?"

"I am a certified witch, Wicca-vouched. They call me Brandy. Are you ready to join us?"

"Us?" May glances around to find the room had filled with women, women of all colors, ages and sizes. "This is, uh, the—, the—"

"Women's Support Group," Brandy assures her.

"You're all witches?"

Brandy laughs heartily, can hardly catch her breath. "Oh, no, just me, I'm the witch. The rest are housewives, teachers, I think we have a therapist, a librarian, a prostitute, we're well represented."

"I'm a civil servant," May whimpers.

"We don't discriminate. Are you in trouble?"

May shakes her head vigorously, feels the beginnings of jowls. "No, no, I'm-, I'm curious, that's all."

"Well, all right," Brandy smirks. She motions across the room to a petite blond wearing a leather mini-skirt with spangles. The woman must be at least fifty years old.

"We should start," the woman shouts. "Can we all gather round closer so I don't have to scream?"

The women move en masse toward the cowgirl and drape themselves over chairs and the sofa; most sit cross-legged on the floor. May hears lots of whispering and some outright guffaws.

"Let's go, child," Brandy tells May, pushing her gently forward by her elbow.

"I don't know . . . ," May says.

"It's ok," Brandy assures her. They sit together on the floor, Brandy behind May. Within moments she clutches May's shoulders and pulls her backward so that May's head falls into her lap. She massages her shoulders and rubs the back of her skull. It feels wonderful and May can't resist.


"I'm going up under your skull with my thumbs to knead the acupuncture points. Just relax and let it happen."

May feels funny about a stranger's thumbs exploring the inner portions of her skull and wonders if the woman is a lesbian. She doesn't know any lesbians. "Harriet would love this," she thinks.

"Comrades," the mini-skirted woman begins in an amazingly high-pitched voice—like a cartoon character, May thinks—, "we have nothing to lose but our chains. Welcome."

All the women applaud and hoot. "Give them hell, Winnie," someone shouts. "Bravo!" "Tell it like it is!"

"I see lots of friends and a few new faces. What we do here is get to know each other by requesting that you newcomers tell us about yourselves. Then we share whatever advice we have to share. Then we hug a lot at the end. Touch is healing!"

May feels Brandy's thumbs hit symmetrical nerves on the opposite sides of her head and she shoots up in a kind of exquisite pain.

"Good, I've found them," Brandy laughs. "I was having a little trouble."

Winnie reads May's sudden change of position as a sign of recognition and points to her. "Ok, dear, let's start with you. I know we're not supposed to say 'dear,' but it's nice, don't you think?"

The women cheer and hoot as they all turn to inspect May, who feels mortified.

"You have to speak now," Brandy says, "it's your turn."

"Speak?" May squeals. "I can't speak. I don't know what to say. I— I—"

"Just tell your story."

"What story?"

"Tell why you're here." An uncomfortable silence ensues and May cringes as the eyes of every woman in the room seem to pummel her like tiny boxing gloves.

"What's your name?" someone shouts.

May blurts out her name.


"Hey, May," the women cry. A voice, the same voice who asked her name, wants to know her story. "No knowing, no healing," someone else cries.

May finds herself rising from the floor in a kind of stupor. Maybe Brandy had damaged her brain somehow. She feels light-headed and fuzzy and has chills yet something compels her to speak.

"I don't want this," she says, spreading her hands to encompass the group, "like we're patients. I don't want a witch massaging my acupuncture points. Acupuncture, that's foreign. I don't want Deepak Chopra and teepees and herbs, women holding hands and giggling, men out banging drums in the woods. I like my car and cable tv, ok? I like my lipstick. Why can't we just be who we are? I used to like Willie when he was normal. I don't know I love him anymore though. And I could ship my mother off to Timbuktu with a one-way ticket. Maybe we're all really alone now, that's the way it is. I don't know what I want. I want to be left alone. I don't want anybody telling me what I need or should do. If that makes me bad, then I'm bad. Maybe now no one can fulfill anybody else. Fulfill, isn't that why we're

here? None of us get fulfilled. When did it happen? I never thought about fulfillment before. I don't think any man can do it, no woman either. Willie says he's gone back to the Stone Age. I don't want to live in the Stone Age. I like now. I think I like now. I used to like now. What happened? Everybody's got their little theories. Try tincture of myrrh, try chocolate, try this, try that . . . for what? What are we trying for? I don't know what we're supposed to be. If I look sexy and wear lipstick, the witches tell me to rub it off; if I let myself go, the therapists say I'm depressed and need medication; if I eat cherry sips I feel guilty. I want relief, that's all. Relief from us all. No hugs, no kisses, no massages—just a break."

May can go on and on but she stops abruptly and scans the room. The women look displeased, some belligerent. She begins to make her way through them and they part fluidly as she passes. She looks back and waves when she reaches the door, "Thanks, have a nice day."

She stands by the elevator and presses the button. Brandy pokes her head out the lounge door.


"Good show," she laughs, with raised thumb. May smiles and steps into the elevator.

 

She has packed Willie's suitcases and plans to tell him, when he stops by, to get out forever. As she lugs his bags to the door Harriet wanders into the room. "Going somewhere?" she asks.

"Shut up," May snarls. She reaches into the indoor mailbox and retrieves the newspaper. She collapses onto the sofa and pats the paper upon her lap.

"Aren't we touchy?" Harriet says. "I could get you some chamomile. Maybe valerian too, that’s stronger."

"I'm reading the paper now, Mother," May snorts without glancing.

"Well—"

"Be quiet, I'm reading the paper. Go away."

She feels Harriet stare for a moment, then turn to retreat toward her room. She opens the paper, tries the horoscopes but can't concentrate. She lets

the paper fall back to her lap and closes her eyes. The whole world has turned against her—mother, husband, her entire gender. She remembers how safe it seemed having symptoms with Willie and is startled to realize that she has for quite some time felt utterly healthy, free of symptoms altogether! Those that clung were mere phantoms, habitual residue. She actually feels wonderful. Even young. And just now she remembers the words of the black janitor–-always two sides to the coin. Something you hear all your life but never really hear at all. And isn’t that the point? Two sides. Harriet’s yin-yang blather. Why did the old man say it to her anyway? And at that moment. Come to think, she doesn’t remember ever seeing him in the building. Who was he? It dawns on her clumsily, like some grandiose carnival parade approaching from a great distance, that if she wants, she can love them anyway, despite Deepak, Edgar, teepees, acupuncture points, tincture of myrrh and the Stone Age. She can love and hate them at once. It needn’t be any stringent either-or fiasco. She can inhabit a future of her own, expect nothing and never be disappointed. She too can become a tiny nation-state of her own.


She'll kick Willie out, definitely, but she just might drive out to see his teepee as well. And her mother . . . how many years does she have left, really? She remembers a much younger woman taking her to swing in the park every day after school. Every day. Her mother would push her by the kneecaps, and when May arched forward, poke her gently in the ribs to tickle her. Oh she poked so gently. And together they would sing, “He flies through the air with the greatest of bees, the daring young man on the flying trapeze.”

"Mother," May calls with a sudden, strange gush of guilt and tolerance, "get out here and talk to me. There's this witch I want to tell you about."

Harriet pokes her head into the room. She looks startled. And very frail. What’s left of her hair pokes out in every direction. “Did you say something?” she asks cautiously. “I said I want to tell you about this witch I met today. A real witch. Official with credentials.”

Harriet’s smile cannot contain itself and seems to wind off her face into the room itself. May watches her face start to glow like a pale moon.

“Just a minute, honey, I’ll be right out,” Harriet says. “I just want to get my juice. It’s a blend of kiwi, blueberry, guava and just about anything you can name. Would you like some?”

“Sure,” May sighs, “why not?” She’ll drink her mother’s concoction because she doesn’t have to. What she craves is a Coke. But what the hell, kiwi, guava, why not? Harriet disappears back into her room as May waits, and as she waits she feels the entire past lift from her shoulders and flap away like a shabby, wounded bird whose forlorn squawks are in their own way beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright© Louis Gallo. White Whale Review, issue 1.3


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