Wormhole

Between you and the restaurant ahead, a dark building entrance. White male there, loitering possibly. Maybe sheltering from this October drizzle. You locate your cell phone, just in case. From under your umbrella, you register his clothing. Shorts. T shirt. Yet his white beard’s trimmed, meticulous. He smiles. 

Ah.

Your dinner date. 

His getup isn’t what you envisioned in front of your mirror half an hour ago, when you inserted a silver earring post and spritzed perfume where scent could waft at only you. 

He’s not waiting in the high-end restaurant he suggested, where he made the reservation, where you insisted on going Dutch. He doesn’t greet you in muted light and reach forward to hold your coat. He stands in an unlit doorway, stepping down, smiling again. You smile too, because damned if you’ll lose your balance over this. 

He’s trouble you’d normally see coming. You’ve lived through seven decades, though you suspect he doesn’t suspect. You use a good nighttime moisturizer. You exercise. Yet here you are, facing him.

As he emerges from the doorway in sneakers, no socks, you wonder why his ankles don’t sport burst capillaries. He works construction and at the local butcher’s to afford excellent cameras. To photograph homeless who trust his affection, let him click and withdraw as they seek good injection veins, comfort at dawn. He told you this over the poultry counter and at his art-filled, no-frills apartment, where he hosted a gathering to elicit feedback on his images. You attended and were supportive.

So he invited you for tonight. A thank-you for embracing his work. For communicating while ordering boneless chicken breast. He said he was still new at photography, so you reached across air-chilled hen corpses, shared encouragement, shed some solitude. He handed you meat in brown paper. You urged yourself to keep talking.

He leaves the doorway behind and you feel overdressed; then sense the soles of your leather boots protecting your feet. Because everything’s a mitzvah now. Mornings awake. Breathing in and out. Stinging air after your shower. All treasure before it decays. Yet, wearing no socks, your date squanders his beauty. 

Beside him on the rainy brick sidewalk, you chat your way into the restaurant. It smells of lemon, olive oil, ironed napkins. Heat on cloth invokes arthritic hands that once held you fresh from the womb. Glancing at your knuckles, you catch your earring’s flash in the elegant bar mirror.

You and he settle into a booth near the wine rack, where management stocks a smooth cabernet blend. The proprietor seems puzzled that you are here with this man who laughs about his clothes, saying he wore what’s clean. He and the proprietor banter about kitchen staff. Your date’s been here before. Maybe delivering squab. Or bananas, as your grandfather did early last century from Chicago’s South Water Market. 

You begin sharing food, ritual articulate as preparing a tea house for ceremony. If your date overlooks ritual, you don’t care. Any more than you cared forty years ago about entering NYC’s subway shirtless beneath a sheer plastic rain poncho. To please a transgressive, pansexual boyfriend. You’ve discovered a sameness among transgressive men. You’ve survived them in an unearned, responsible life easier on reputation, stomach lining, heart.

No intimacy expected tonight, surely. Your mirror spits back undertones of Asia Minor and every crease these seventy years engraved around your lips. Your date mentions his male lover. You’re instantly free to enjoy your meal. 

Conversation turns to your companion’s heroin recovery. He trusts your compassion. He’s helping his sensitive son overcome addiction. His daughter is elsewhere, deciding what she wants to do. The cabernet blend has been good. Fewer car headlights streak across the bar’s mirror.

You divulge your late husband’s overdose death. It clashes with who you’ve become and who you were when you married, yearning and privileged, in midlife. You touch your lobes to check both earrings. You sometimes lose them in your hair. No longer dark. Silver, like your jewelry.

You were angry after your husband died, you say. And before, when addiction snuffed his spirit. Stopped your child’s reach for his father’s hand. You withhold your husband’s name, having never loved anyone again as you loved him.

Your date is gentle. “Weren’t you sad?”

“Well sure, but angry too.”

“But sad, right?”

You don’t say, “My young friend, are you telling me what to feel?” Instead, “Sure. I was very sad for what we had lost.”

Another table’s still occupied, so you finish your cabernet. You remember sharply your husband’s NA counselor, who sobbed when he called to check in and you said your husband had died. The counselor cried, wracked, as your dinner date might have cried. Exactly that way. 

When the tab’s paid, he says he hopes a friendship’s begun, pulls out twenty dollars on the walk home to give to three young people laying sleeping bags in an electronics shop’s doorway. You carry no cash. You wait till he leaves, then tap in the code to your apartment building. 

You’re enraged. He’s detoured your anger, sidestepped horror. Handed you his longing, rare liquid in antique porcelain. Stuck, you must carry it with both hands, can raise neither in self-defense, nor absolution, without spilling his prayer that addicts and homeless are people, too. 

God, yes. You can’t whisper, “So am I.” 

No screams about cremating what you once lay alongside at night. A quarter century’s cleanup, palms scarred from holding lives together. Anger helped you decide to survive. It was the purest fuel.

Avoid buying chicken for a while. Avoid him and the choice: Hurt him or betray yourself. 

Walk down your bedroom hallway. Feel rage tunnel backwards. 

Turn on the bathroom light. Take out your earrings, one by one, and lay them in a small basket on the vanity shelf. In mirror lights, see no furrows around your mouth. Hair dark as the day your husband died. Brush it slowly and remember how very much it hurt to be young.

Courtesy of John paul summers on unsplash

Courtesy of John paul summers on unsplash

 
 

MAINE THAW

FLASH FICTION IN THREE PARTS
Featured author, The New Guard BANG! February/March, 2019

Maine 44.8831° N, 68.6719° W: Early March

By now, there’s been a thaw. And night mud that re-freezes under stellar wind. Not yet enough for resurrection, though friends have said for weeks: almost there, almost spring, almost warm.

I’m not like them. I’m sorry to see winter go.

I’m closest to the center at December’s fulcrum, when nothing shifts. The world stops moving. I can tell. Winter solstice holds me between time’s endpoint and imminent surge. A stopwatch in God’s hand reads zero.  

There is only suspended cold. Molecules barely vibrate in narrow intra-quantum spaces. Breath arrives arrowed by metallic particles lined up on a knife’s blade. Held clean, without temperature. Not even a drop of liquid. Still.

Messages come through easily.

Ancestors Over a Woodland House: March 15

She’d forgotten how long she’d known us, so we shook a bolt of cloth from up here, beyond the atmospheric turbulence separating us from her. Cloth rolled in sine waves. We twisted it, adding harmonics. Overtones shuddered her kitchen, where she wanted to stay forever.

She thought she was hearing music from a passing car’s open window and mourned because she had no one but the house around her to share it with. Everyone she loved was gone. They were here with us. 

We’d watched her when days grew short. She’d brought cedar boughs indoors, as though it were not enough for them to remain where they grew. She’d flung a red ribbon onto cut balsam in a vase. She’d scattered candles inside as though her longing could force astral remnants to come to life again, to travel across a few billion light-years and confine themselves, like her, near her hearth in the woodland house she’d built for refuge.

All rights reserved Stephanie Cotsirilos 2019

All rights reserved Stephanie Cotsirilos 2019

The house grumbled under ice dams. She attended to its needs, shoveling pathways to doors and windows, to the house’s mouth and eyes. She broke up snow, crusted sleep of a giant’s dream.

Lying in early morning within her house’s cavities, she mistook it for herself. Dawn caught them tossing in sleep together, creaking. When she walked to the mailbox at driveway’s end, she stood back to let her house show off, shedding loud thuds of snow to the ground in February. It grew icicles secretly at night.

Then the house cried cold waters in March, staining interior ceilings over the kitchen sink, dripping. She called the plumber. We shook the cloth again.

We forced her to well tears of renewal. She mistook them for something seeping into the house’s guts.  

She thought this movement was the house readying itself for Japanese lilac outside the music room where she planned to practice her rusty violin come April, May, June. She expected the house to grow green hair in summer rains, hair done up in moss for fall.

She expected her house to be patient with children who visited, trampled lawns, and fell so she herself could lean down and offer an apple.  

She refused to hear the house say: You’re going to leave me, you know. Here, where I’ll think of you, of how you smelled getting up each day, of how you warmed me with kindling and oils. You shone my windows and kept me ordered and graceful under the trees. You’re going to let other children run and bump against me. It’s terrible to outlive those you love.

Up here, we shook, made more waves to imitate a cello’s melody through darkness. We oscillated tone on either side of her age. We sent more music. Moved a tenor sax behind a great, filled ellipsis. Not too high, an egg of sound. 

We hushed the night. She gave up and sang.

Stillwater River: Vernal Equinox

Winter’s passing rips me off. Now nights will not be so distilled and cold. Though I’m glad that, last night, I had to leave the kitchen pellet stove on, damper closed to whistle combustion below as my dog paced another circle on the bedspread, then dropped her rump against my left side.

Soon, she won’t do that. It will be too warm for her, so she’ll sleep on the floor. She’ll be able to smell me well enough, I suppose, from there. I won’t be able to smell her.

Birds will begin waking us any day now. We’ll have no excuse to lie here on the flannel sheets I tumbled dry to capture body heat right up to my skull. Chill won’t sting my cheekbones anymore when the furnace switches off at dawn. I’ll have no excuse to count breaths still channeling easily before it’s time to fling off blanket and comforter and bedspread and get going in the frigid bathroom. Go like crows outside, cawing to displace air that was once settled.

Courtesy of Brandon Green on Unsplash

Courtesy of Brandon Green on Unsplash

I’ll have to move as my dog and I did yesterday in the wooded boundary between house lots. A brown-grey stream of melting water cut through snow and ricocheted sun around stray gravel.

Returning home, I wiped mud off my dog’s feet. Dreaded opening the appointment book on my desk where today’s marked, “Spring Begins.” Tried to think of the upside: I’d move vigorously now over surfaces freed of retreating ice. Even though there’s a small bone fracture in my foot, obtained God knows where. I’ve been swaddling it in wool socks unsuitable to warmer weather.

Time to wear thinner socks. My foot will hurt. I brace for reliving the end of school years when jonquils and final grades said: You can’t return to this section of time when you were still allowed to be growing up. To overcast months when teachers knew your face under hallway buzzers, when friends circled habits with you or without you, when parents hadn’t started asking about summer plans or next year or life’s remainder. Before growth spurts made your shins ache when you walked over sprouting rhizomes and fescues. Grasses tangled new roots into funky webs while you shot up near flowering bulbs that tipped your world.

No, winter is still my authentic place. Other seasons point to it or away from it. It’s what I’ve always relied on. In it were my people, the things I could return to. Once. More than once. If not now.

I resent it when greenness and expectation invade. I’m afraid new life will wipe out the old. I dare listen only to Bach.

Then the scent of some clod mimics loam. It seduces me, and I consent to try.