pacific review 2000
A TABLE IS AN UPPITY CHAIR
Nicholas Fillamore, Jr
SHAPING A BONSAI WILLOW
from O WELL
from ALL OUR HEARTS CRY OUT
from OLD SWEET SONAS
from THE FLESH THROWN OVERBOARD
MAN WOMAN MAN
THE QUEEN OF ANGELS
IF ONLY TO BE WARM WERE MARVELOUS
Selected pieces from Rigor
Pacific Review @ SDSU 2000
Wood met wood with a resounding WHACK!
Immediately Claude sent the door flying through another outward excursion. And back with a WHACK! Another excursion. Another WHACK! He had heard Lester Wade call this a cadenza for old fool and door. WHACK! Of course held heard it. WHACK! The son-of-a-bitch had meant him to hear it. WHACK! But not understand. WHACK! Superior-acting son-of-a-bitch teacher. WHACK! But he knew what a cadenza was--WHACK--after all the violin lessons--WHACK--his mother had made him take.
And there was the--WHACK--son-of-a-bitch working in his front yard--WHACK--acting like he was stone-deaf. WHACK! Claude knew the type. WHACK! Tall, powerful men--WHACK--who never had to
take--WHACK--any pushing around in this--WHACK--world. They did the pushing. WHACK! WHACK!
Wade glanced up with a frown. Straightening from his work, he scooped up a pile of weeds and started around his garage to the compost pile in the back yard.
Claude moved quickly through the house to the back door of the breezeway.
WHONK! The metal door hitting metal frame was a disappointingly dull sound because it was light metal--cheap metal. Claude cursed the bastard who sold him this house with such junk in it.
Wade dropped his weeds onto the mound of grass cuttings and Claude was certain there was contempt in the way he flung them from some distance. WHONK!
"Honey, why don't you run up to the store and get me some sugar?" Audra called from the kitchen. He knew what his wife was up to and refused to answer--WHONK!
Wade had disappeared from sight. Claude had to leave the breezeway to view his neighbor's front yard. Wade wasn't there either. Consulting his watch, Claude realized that Wade had been weeding more than an hour, longer than he usually worked outside.
A quick trip to the store, Claude thought, would be a good break. He was proud of his big immaculate Cadillac and liked to run errands in it.
"If you want a pie," Audra called to him again, "I'll have to have that sugar soon."
"Okay!" Claude snarled. "Okay! I'm going!"
He had to re-enter the breezeway to get into the garage and press the button to lift the overhead door. He liked that. Their old place hadn't had an automatic door. He loved driving in, on a rainy day, pressing the doo-hicky, and having the door open. Open sesame! Open says me! he thought with a grin.
Audra appeared in the doorway to the garage and said, "Don't make trouble at the store, Claude."
"They give me any shit, I'll give it right back."
"You're just going for sugar," she said. "If the line at the express check-out is long, don't get impatient. Be careful what you say to people."
"You watch what you say. My mouth is my problem."
As soon as held said it, he thought of the smart answer she could make. If she was thinking it, she didn't say it. "I'll get a steak," he told her.
He knew she didn't like steak cooked on the outdoor grill. He preferred it pan-fried himself, but he couldn't resist filling the neighborhood with its aroma.
"I'd rather eat inside," she told him.
He settled it, "I'd rather cook out."
"Well, all right," she caved in. "You need some more medicine. Might as well get that while you're out."
"I'll be damned if I waste any more money on that stuff. It doesn't do one thing but make me sleepy and sick to my stomach."
"It's good for you," she argued. "If you don't take it, you know you'll be in trouble with the doctor. His recommendation is what keeps your retirement checks coming in."
"We don't need him or the damn retirement checks." There were times when he felt like strangling her. She knew damned well that they didn't have to live on his retirement.
"Of course we don't need the money," she admitted her error, "but you paid into it and we have it coming to us."
"You damn betcha! And I'd like to see anyone take it away."
"Don't forget your medicine."
He knew he'd been managed but it wasn't very often that she could move him her way, so he let her get away with it for once.
"You better think what you've forgot. I never knew such a forgetful woman. Half the time no sooner do I get back from the store than you think of somethin' else you need. You never used to need to run to the store every day."
"I didn't have you to depend on--to shop for me every day." She was buttering him up but he liked it when she did that.
He punched the button and watched the door rise slowly and smoothly. Then he went around the car to open its door, being careful not to let it hit the garage wall.
"Damn workbench!" he growled. The garage was plenty wide enough for a big car if that bastard hadn't built such a monster of a workbench on one side of it. The basement was the place for a shitty-looking piece of shit like that. He seated himself, closed the door, and started the engine.
"Listen to that power," he told himself and let the engine roar for a moment. Backing out of his driveway, he saw Lester's two cars and crowed, "Kiddy cars! Little heaps of junk!"
Since he'd lived in the neighborhood, he could count the times he'd seen his neighbor wash or vacuum either of them. Which was all he ever did. He didn't waste any of his precious time on a wax-job to protect the finish. Cheapest little piles of pure crap he could buy and he just ran them into the ground. That's an educated man for you--lazy bastards.
"Jesus Christ! What's that?" Looking into his rearview mirror he saw a car behind him as he completed his turn into the street. "Who the hell--"
But he recognized the car--the stupid engineer across from them. "Doesn't he ever work?" he asked himself as he put the Caddie in Drive and moved away from the red Porsche which David Brownlee drove. Then he recalled that it was Saturday. In the mirror he watched the man turn into the driveway opposite his.
Their street was a stop street but he never did anything but slow for it, stopping if he saw a car coming from either direction. There was no competing traffic this time.
"Sons-of-bitches," he said, meaning Lester Wade and David Brownlee and, yes,that Wop-bastard on the other side of him. The teacher, the engineer, and the pharmacist--big-shot college grads who'd shit on him if he gave them even half a chance.
In the store, people were stocking up. When he'd picked up a sack of sugar, he stood for a moment trying to remember what else he'd been sent to get. It didn't come to him, and when he saw a cashier with no line, he checked out.
A left turn from the parking lot without a stop-and-go sign could really get under his skin, but his luck held and there was a lull in traffic as he reached the main street, so he scarcely had to slow down to cross it and head for home. As he arrived there, Audra was just leaving the De Lorenzo's house.
"What in hell's she doing over there?"
As soon as the car was in the garage, he jumped out and went to confront her. "What in hell were you doin' over there?"
"I just took over some mail that was left here by mistake."
Glancing into the box that caught the mail slipped through the slot beside the garage door, he saw their mail still there, so he knew she was lying because she would've taken it inside to sort it.
"Did you get the sugar?"
"It's in the car," he said, leaving her to find it while he looked through the mail. He growled, "Junk mail, all junk mail."
"It was throw-away mail that was left here by mistake."
He glared at her back as she went to get the sugar, wondering how she could lie so proficiently when she must know that he was too smart not to know she was lying. He'd made no effort to hide his disbelief.
"You decided not to get the steak."
He hesitated but finally decided not to go back for it. "Yeah."
"I put the pork chops back in the freezer but I still have time to defrost them."
As she went into the house, he heard a motor cough and then begin to run full-speed. The sound was coming from across the street and in a minute he saw Brownlee appear with his mower. Claude went into the breezeway to watch. He thought it was high time the man cut the weeds he passed off as grass. Brownlee had made a couple of circuits of the front lawn when the engine began to lope and then, with a clunk, died. Disconnecting the spark plug, he pushed the handle to the ground and kept it there with one foot while studying the blade and its housing. Claude had never had such a golden opportunity to put Brownlee in his place.
WHACK! "Get a horse!" he yelled.
Brownlee looked up, so he'd heard.
WHACK! "Get a horse!"
Brownlee stepped away from the mower's handle and gravity righted the machine.
WHACKI "Get a horse!"
He grabbed the handle, turned the mower around, and pushed it to the driveway and back to the garage behind the house.
Claude banged the door several more times but didn't waste any more breath on Brownlee who wouldn't be able to hear him back there. He thought with glee how the simple son-of-a-bitch had the longest drive in the neighborhood, a killer to clear of snow after a winter storm. And his inventor's model of a snowblower was no more reliable than his junkyard mower.
"Are you sure you don't want a steak?" Audra asked from the kitchen door.
No you don't, he thought. Not this time. He gave her one of his looks that said it all.
"Did you forget your medicine too?"
He didn't have to consider this answer. "I never intended to remember it."
"You'll get all worked up without it," she warned. "I wish you'd go back and have them refill the prescription."
Sharpening his tone, he suggested, "Maybe your dear friend De Lorenzo would bring it home for you if you asked him."
"He couldn't do that without a prescription."
"Shitl" he said because no bad word could upset her more than that one. "He takes tranquilizers any time he feels like it. Do you think he has a prescription for those?"
Obviously she couldn't argue with that because she turned and disappeared into the house.
Claude stared at the empty street. He wondered where all the brats were. Probably they were playing across the street. Brownlees had a lot twice the size of any others in the area and it was a jungle beyond their back garden. Ellen Brownlee had shown it to him and Audra when they first moved into this house; she'd seemed to be proud of its wildness.
Then he heard treble voices behind his own house. He turned and slipped through his back door to catch the brats in his yard. But when he found them, they were in the corner of the Wade yard, the whole tribe: Buddy De Lorenzo, Kevin Brownlee, and both Wade brats. He walked to that corner of his yard and saw that they were playing with cars and trucks, pushing them around roads they had made in the needles under the Wades' largest pine tree.
The Brownlee brat became aware they were being watched and turned to stare up at him. Blond and beautiful, he looked like an angel. Going back to his play, he said, "Private property."
Furious, Claude drew the line for them again. "You're damn right. Mine begins here and if I catch you over here . . ." He left his threat to their imaginations.
"Smart-alecky little bastard." He turned and hurried back to the house. He'll show the bastards. Entering the breezeway, he went to the opposite door to see if the little bastard's father was in sight. Obviously he hadn't been able to restart the mower. He saw that Sam De Lorenzo had finally gotten his lazy ass in gear and was bringing in the trash cans that had been emptied the day before.
Claude slammed the door behind him and rushed into the garage and grabbed the tops from two of his empty cans. De Lorenzo was going into his own garage when Claude flung the lids onto the blacktop, yelling, "Bastard! Son-of-a-bitchin' bastard!"
De Lorenzo came out of his garage and walked to the near side of his driveway. "What's the matter, Mr. Marshall?" he asked.
Claude moved to pick up the tops that had hit the pavement with such a satisfying clatter. He threw them back into the garage and again they proved they were distant relatives of cymbals.
"What is your problem?" the man asked him.
Claude saw Mary De Lorenzo's frightened face before she could shut her breezeway door and disappear behind it. He felt a sudden inspiration and yelled, "Wop bastard!"
De Lorenzo shuddered. Turning away he walked down his drive to get the other two empty cans.
Claude wasn't going to let up on him now. "Wop bastard! Cock-sucker! Mother-fuckin' son-of-a-bitch wop bastard!" Claude picked up the lids and gave them another fling as De Lorenzo disappeared into his garage. Frustrated because the man would now disappear into his house, Claude yelled louder, "Cock-suckin', mother-fuckin' wop son-of-a-bitch!"
To his surprise De Lorenzo came out of the garage and stood in front of its open door, staring at him.
"Wop son-of-a-bitch!" Claude swore again, but his voice lost force as his attention was diverted by catching sight of someone on the street. When he looked in that direction, he saw that it was Lester Wade who stopped at the end of the driveway. He heard the door behind him and knew that Audra had come outside. "A perfect pair of son-of-bitches!" he cried for her benefit.
"I told you this would happen," she whispered behind him. "What are you so upset about? That I went over to De Lorenzos' house? They're nothing to me. Come inside," she pleaded.
He yelled again, "Cock-suckin', mother-fuckin' bastards!"
She wasn't chased inside by such language. Instead, to his surprise, she walked past him and to the end of the driveway where she asked Lester Wade, "Can't we settle this somehow?"
In that exasperatingly level voice of his, Wade responded, "It's too late. You should've warned us what we were in for when you first moved here. We had to find out about him from friends of friends who were your old neighbors. Too late. You should've come over to apologize for him the first time he yelled at one of our kids when my wife made the mistake of coming into your yard to chat with you and the kids came with her. Now is way too late."
Claude was the first to see the police car and turned and went into the garage and pushed the button to shut the door. He heard Mary De Lorenzo say, "I called them right after I called Lester. I was afraid. I was holding Buddy but I was afraid. I didn't know what might happen."
"What's the matter here?" The strange voice had to be the policeman.
"Our crazy neighbor," Lester Wade said, "throwing garbage can lids and yelling obscenities."
"At me," Sam De Lorenzo added. "For some reason he's in a fury and taking it out on me."
"What, exactly, did he say?"
"I'd rather not repeat it," Wade said.
"About the only bad word he didn't shout so it could be heard all up and down the street was shit," De Lorenzo said. His voice was now as remote as Wade's and the policeman's.
"But you did hear it all?"
"Plenty," Wade guaranteed.
"Did you hear?"
"No, I just happened to see the patrol car on the street. I was in my garage. Just came out to see what was going on."
"I heard it all!"
Claude had to see who said that. Everyone had turned toward this disembodied voice. They were staring up at Brownlee's second floor window. "I was sewing up here; I heard it all."
"It seems you have plenty of witnesses if you want to press charges."
"Let's talk it over," Lester said and Claude watched them go over to stand beneath the window where Ellen Brownlee was lurking.
Audra and the policeman were coming up the driveway and whatever they were saying to each other, they must've been whispering. He couldn't even make out the sound of low voices.
Claude didn't want to be found where he was, as if he was hiding, as if he was afraid of those bastards. He stepped into the breezeway as the policeman followed Audra inside.
"Mr. Marshall?" the man asked.
"Your neighbors seem quite worked up about your behavior."
"They've been against me ever since we moved in and they found out I won't let their kids do anything they please in my yard."
"The children have been trespassing?"
"And their parents are always spyin' on us. They crawl around on my roof and make such a racket at nights I can't sleep."
"They do what?"
"They crawl around on the roof."
"How do they get up there?"
"How do I know? They all have ladders. They left footprints in the snow all last winter. I took pictures to prove it. I'll go get them."
As he went into the house, he heard the man saying, "Your house has a forty-five degree pitch to the roof. It wouldn't be easy to climb on when it's clear and dry."
Claude hurried to get the pictures that would show that stupid son-of-a-bitch. Poking in the drawer where they should've been, he said, "Shit!" He hoped the man outside couldn't hear that held now said that word, too. The pictures were in the next drawer. He grabbed them and went back to the breezeway, waving them triumphantly. He shoved them at the man, saying, "Here. Here's proof."
There were three snapshots and the man shuffled through them quickly and handed them back. Obviously unimpressed, he asked, "How old are these children?"
"I don't know!" Claude exploded. "First they tell me one thing and then they tell me another."
"They've all had birthdays since we moved here," Audra said.
"Do you know their ages?" He was asking her.
She was looking at the floor as if she hoped it would open and swallow her. She told him, "The Wades' boys are four and five; Buddy De Lorenzo is four; Kevin Brownlee is nearly four."
The man was staring at her incredulously. He asked, "Do they come onto your property frequently?"
"If they do, I don't see them," she admitted reluctantly. "I think their mothers watch them very closely."
"I can see why," he commented. "I'll go see what they've decided to do. If they press charges, your husband will be notified when he has to appear in court."
"Surely we can settle it without that."
"Shit!" "It's up to them," he told her. He backed through the door and headed for the knot of people on the Brownlee's lawn. "Now you've done it!" Audra cried.
"We've had the police at our door before."
"This isn't the old neighborhood." Her voice was nearly a wail as she added, "We never should've left there. They were used to you there."
"A bunch of bastards just like these sons-of-bitches."
"I'm going to call John Meyers."
He started to object that they didn't need a lawyer yet but then decided it would be best to be ready for these bastards.
"Come inside now, Claude."
Obediently he followed her into the kitchen and listened while she put in a call to the lawyer.
"This is Audra Marshall, 359-2727. Please call me." As she hung up, she turned to say, "It was his answering service--"
"I could hear," he interrupted. "Naturally the son-of-a-bitch wasn't in his office when you needed him."
There was a rap on the breezeway door and the policeman stepped inside when he saw them at the kitchen door. He told them, "Mr. De Lorenzo feels something has to be done and will come down to the station to sign a complaint."
Claude felt his stomach knot with fear but he calmed himself. Let the son-of-a-bitch try to make trouble for me. Meyers'll fix his wagon.
Audra asked, "That's it? There's nothing we have to do right now?"
"You'll be notified when and where to appear."
"I'm sorry you were called in."
He shrugged, turned, and left.
Audra stood in the doorway and began to quake, so he could tell she was crying and trying to hide it from him. He pushed her aside and descended the two steps into the breezeway to watch the police car leave. As soon as it was out of sight, he opened the door and slammed it. WHONKI Watching the other corner when the car would reappear if the man went around the block, he slammed it again. WHONK!
"Stop it!" Audra said behind him.
The three men had turned to stare at him. Now they walked around the Brownlee house and went inside.
"They might change their minds if . . ." she began but did not finish. "If you don't begin to act better, we may have to try some other arrangement."
Threatening to put me away, are you? he thought slyly. He felt the tensions of the day leaving him as his mind formed the threat, I may have to take care of you yet.
But he knew he'd never do that because she had to take care of him. Life without her cooking and cleaning and . . . It was unimaginable. However, he might have to throw a real scare into her yet.
the moon quivering
in a pail of milk
I lost myself
in the avenue's argument.
The black Atlantic spread its arms.
As I paid the price
In this dark city I met a lady
who wore my cruelty
like a mask.
It wasn't till years later
drinking alone in some Bowery bar
that I realized.
Running for many blocks
past tenement windows
and huddled figures
I came at last to an open door?
a light burning at the top of the stairs.
Was it fear that started me back
from the brink
or a habit persistent and benign
In this version
we're sitting at a table
and she's turning over cards.
Each time she turns one over
she looks up into my face
and points to the card.
(The cards are masks.)
When she's finished
turning them over
she gathers them back up
and shuffles them
and begins to lay them down again.
I contemplate the meaning of this
for the rest of my life
without ever coming to a satisfactory conclusion.
The autumn colors remind one
of cutting into fruit?
how gazing into
the angel's face
you shall see the reflection of your soul
and the human portion fall away
IV. like a rind.
And what if the soul is an illusion?
Better to stick to the hard details.
Scooping out the gutters,
putting in storm windows, wiping the glass
clean. Perhaps we feel ourselves best
in those moments of energy
when everything comes clear?
the maples blazing red and yellow
in the yard. A rake leaned against the shed.
We live in the world. And it is good.
It spills its refuse on Formica counters,
rots there with the defrosted beef
(10% lean) and aging cutting-boards.
The edges expand, envelop neighbors
too congenial to resist the slavering
stammer, the murmuring bleach of
my piled unwisdom. I am
my best now. I am thinning,
molecularly, into the one-dimensional
flame of sacrosanct religion-
the eternal micron of dumb nothing.
Pass through me, light or wave,
dung and gold, keepers of the carbon,
the lithium, the uranium 238.
I am my history. It is
written sooner than late,
hear the aching sigh of its labor.
George stared out the window of the 5:18 as it left the station. Must be something more, he thought. Somewhere. Despite a decent job, nice home and family, life had become little more than a monotonous set of stale routines. Something. Somewhere. Somethingsomewheresomethingsomewheresomething.... The rhythm of the rails forged a meeting of his upper and lower eyelids.
"Excuse me," a man said, settling in next to him.
"Ma? Is that you?" he asked tentatively, the way one speaks to a stranger who has so captured one's mother's likeness.
"Don't be a horse's ass, you know exactly who I am," the man replied. "Some likeness though, isn't it?"
"Can you do that with anyone?"
"Name your poison, Georgie Boy. Michelle Pfeiffer? Tuesday Weld-1964, without a stitch! Remember the fights you had with Margie over your TuesyTuesyTuesy? Seem silly now, don't they?"
They did seem silly, but George saw no reason to admit it.
"I never liked my mother," he said instead.
The man ignored him. Hardly the thing to say to someone who looked exactly like her. "Still want to look like Robby Redford?"
George rubbed his eyes and cleaned his glasses. "God, you really look... exactly like my mother!"
"Very sweet Porgie, but we're discussing full frontal nudity here. TuesyTuesyTuesy! Prefer Dutch doing play-by-play? Gipper to Gov to Prez! Sssstarrrrched white shirt! Death Valley Days, There You Go Again! DozingDozingDozing. Just name it."
"I saw a movie," George began, "I forget the name. Robert De Niro had a pony tail, long finger nails, hard boiled eggs..."
"Louis Cipher, as De Niro played him." The man assumed the character. "Angel Heart, 1987, directed by Alan Parker, based on the novel Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg. Rated R-barely. So what you really want to see," the man continued as George's someothermother, "is Lisa Bonet humping Mickey Rourke with all the parts they cut to avoid the X-rating."
In an instant, Lisa Bonet was writhing in ecstasy on top of Mickey Rourke in the seat across from George and Mommyman. George was surprised none of the other passengers seemed to notice.
"You save your superlatives for your friends, Mister!" the ruffled shamansheman replied matronmockingly. "Now, let's get down to brass tacks. You're avoiding my question."
"I'm sorry, what was the question?"
"Forget I asked," Moppa replied. "So, did you like the show? Of course you did!" The maninhim reached over and tapped George's shoulder. "But if you're interested in a re-run, you're going to have to pay for it. No more Missywissy Niceguy."
"I knew my mother'd wind up going... you know, and not..." He cast a glance ostensibly through the roof of the train.
"C'mon Georgie Boy! Smell the coffee! Run for the roses! I mean, what's it all about? Poor self-sacrificing little Mumsey. Did it all for you! She made as miserable a mess of her dreary little turn upon the stage as you're making of yours. So what does she do? What does everybody do? They have kids so they can shove all the responsibility for living on them! Let's face it, Orgyworgy, that's why nobody ever does anything!"
"Don't interrupt me, Georgie, I'm getting to the point."
Patermater casually waved an arm as if all were forgiven.
"I'm here to put you into the life you always dreamed of. A thousand-horsepower, turbo-charged, lifetime bumper-to-bumper, hundred-to-the-gallon, miles-to-go-before-I-sleep, no root-of-all-evil down, no hell-to-pay till the day you die!"
George looked perplexed. "I have an Acura...?"
"Can you stand it?" his wanabewouldbe benefactor implored.
"My Acura?" George wondered. "It's..."
"I said, CAN YOU STAND IT?" Androgomom repeated, as if sheer volume were an appropriate means to command undivided attention.
George looked around to see if McMomma's shouting had commanded anyone else's attention. To his relief, it hadn't.
"Can I stand what?"
"YOUR LIFE, MANCHILD! YOUR MISERABLE STINKING LIFE!"
George reflected a moment. No. He couldn't stand it.
"But what do I have to do?" he asked.
"Somehtingsomewheresomethingsomewheresomething; you said it yourself, Georgie, do I always have to spell everything out for you? SAT scores are averaging a hundred points lower than when you took them. Social Security's going down the toilet. We can't rely on the next generation anymore, either one of us. Whuddaya say, kiddo," butIknowwherethesunshinesbest added quickly, glancing down at a bejeweled Rolex, "I gotta go. We're almost at the end of the line. I gotta go now."
"So you just want me to... to...?"
"Be a mensch! For once in your frail pathetic existence! A JUDEOCHRISTAINMUSLIMHINDUBUDDHISTTAOISTATHEISTMENSCH!"
"Yes!" George shouted, his chest swelling as a choir took up the chorale movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
The rhythm of the rails lulled him away. When he awoke from his obligatory transfiguring torpor unable to remember the man with his mother's likeness, he knew without rhyme or reason, he was changed forever. Consciousness itself imbued him with an unimagined vitality and he reveled in every facet of existence. Even insects, which he'd always detested, held a fascination for him. A midge, he'd explain to perplexed audiences, will flap its wings over a thousand times in a single second! His relationship with Marg also began to soar as the family became a cohesive, purposeful unit in which every member had collective pride and individual responsibility. Accomplishment, helping others, loving and being loved, he learned, were the essence of a meaningful life.
His prodigious accomplishments, particularly in the areas of child welfare, world hunger and antivivisection, were the work of an indomitable selfless spirit, said his obituary in the Sunday Times. For fifty years, George lived this paradise on Earth. Then he died and there was nothing. No hell-to-pay, no whackoweirdo youtalkingtome GhostofMammasPast. Nothing-zippo. An irrefutable testament to how an occasional random schizophrenic episode, like an occasional high enema-coloring outside the box if you're going to be overly sensitive-can be of inestimable value.