Monday, November 12, 2012

Joe: an idea for a new project

"They have beauty, because in them is embodied the greatest of our imaginative delights,-that of giving body to our latent capacities, and of wandering, without the strain and contradiction of actual existence, into all forms of possible being." taken from Section 46 on Ideal Characters-The Sense of Beauty by George Santayana.


He called me on Tuesday.  His request for a dog-sitter was in response to an ad I had placed in a local independent newspaper. He told me the key was hanging behind a large planter hanging just within reach of his front porch. I marvel at the inconspicuous conspicuousness of the key and let myself in.  “Harvey” greets me at the door, presumably happy to see me, or perhaps anyone after a few long hours of solitude.  I glance around his house, taking it all in at once.  His house is very neat, but homey and comfortable.  Not overtly masculine, nor feminine either.  There is a leather chair in the corner, a pair of reading glasses folded on top of a book, which, upon closer examination, was a historical text on the French Revolution.  The fireplace appeared to be well-used, the ashes covered the interior with a light coating.  He obviously cares enough to sweep the ash regularly.  I proceed to the kitchen to calm Harvey’s obvious hunger with a few kibbles.  The kitchen is also well-loved and is definitely “manned” by a guy who cooks and is good at it.  Fancy olive oils line the shelf behind the stove, coarse sea salt delicately placed into a thin salt grinder, standing at attention to the right.  I open the left-hand cupboard to search for Harvey’s food and see that this man not only loves pasta—wonderful pastas of all shapes and sizes-but has a sweet tooth.  A man after my own heart!! A whole shelf of fine dark chocolate.  Hmmm. None are opened, so I cannot even steal a bite to try.  I find the kibbles and fill the dog’s bowl.  He grinds his nose into the pile and inhales the food until it is gone.
 I sit at the kitchen table to wait for him, wondering at this man who has trusted me enough to freely explore his home without his watching eyes on me.  I notice the dog’s leashes hanging in the hall leading to the back entrance-each having their own hook.  On a fourth hangs the dog’s jacket-green wool with a nylon exterior for those chilly rainy days.  He obviously loves and cares for his dog.  He is paying my high priced fee after all.  I smile.  I notice some receipts under the toaster, so of course, my curiosity is tempted as I get up to spy on this poor man’s every move.  First one-$26.53 on various items from the drug store.  Shaving cream, body wash.  Oh interesting, condoms for $7.97.  OK now my new vocation of domestic spy is getting fun.  Who is he having sex with?  He obviously lives alone or maybe not?  I haven’t checked the clothing in the house.  Is he using these condoms for birth control, STD protection, or both?  The date on the receipt says April 17th—two days ago. A Ha!  Someone he is traveling with?  Or someone he hopes to meet in his travels?  Or, quite possibly, just some male lothario who quite regularly keeps a stock of ever-diminishing condoms ready at hand?  Oh my!  Too much information I think.  I quickly move to the next receipt-hardware store.  Polyurethane, 1 quart and light bulbs.  Not so interesting.  Next receipt—doctor’s fees---insurance paid 65.00.  Patient responsibility—36.00.  And who is this doctor?  Dr. Sumerain.  Never heard of him.  “Harvey, are you finished?”  He wags his tale and runs to me.  “Time for a walk?”  He runs to the hall and starts to pull on one of the leashes.  He barks twice and I get up to get him ready.  As I enter the hall, I notice two pairs of shoes—both men’s shoes-driving shoes-you know the kind that look like loafers but have the half spheres along the heel—and a more dressy shoe, presumably for work or possibly after hours cocktails. I open up the back door to let both Harvey and me tumble out into the cool day.  His garden matches his house-neatly trimmed, well landscaped but not many spring flowers poking their heads through. He has already mulched, which is quite early for this time of year—too much time on his hands or a little too fastidious?  Or perhaps eager to be thought well of, maybe by me?  His garden is quite isolated and private, closed to other’s watching eyes.  Maybe I should check for photos of him?  I smile again.  He sounded middle aged on the phone, with a bit of rasp to his voice, almost sexy, or maybe too many cigarettes?  No, he is definitely not a smoker.  His house smells fresh, and he seems too “in control”.  Harvey pulls me toward the back yard, and I notice a back gate leading to a street or maybe alley beyond his yard.  There is someone leaning against a fence on the opposite side.  An older man, smoking.  “Hey there, Harvey.  And who do we have here?”  He smiles, a nice set of teeth although slightly yellowed and worn due to age and tobacco.  “Hi, nice to meet you!  I’m Samantha, the dog sitter.”  “Well, Harvey sure is one lucky dog.”  He winks.  “And so is Joe.”  “He didn’t warn me that you were coming.  I would have worn some cologne or maybe gotten a hair cut.”  He chuckles.  “Joe is a busy guy—always jet-setting here and there.  I swear he has the life.  Good looking too, don’t you think?” “I wouldn’t know.  I haven’t actually seen him.”  “Well, that’s probably a good thing, little lass. You’d be starry-eyed right now, and wouldn’t give me the time of day.”  “Oh, I don’t know about that!”  I exclaim, mostly to reassure him.  “What does Joe do that keeps him on the road so much?”  “Oh, you didn’t know? He’s a big architect, pretty famous to boot.”  I am always surprised he stays here.  I mean, he could afford something much bigger.  Besides, with his talent he could design something quite unique for himself.  But, I guess he prefers his modest bungalow and I think so does Harvey.  Right, Harvey?” He rubs Harvey’s ears and the dog lifts up to lick his face. “He’s a good dog.  You’ll have a nice visit with him.”  “Thank you, umm”  “Oh, yes, nice to meet you too, Samantha, the name’s Roc, short for Rochester.  Don’t ask.”  “Love it, Roc!  Well, must give Harvey what he wants.  I’ll see you around.”  I wave as Harvey pulls me down the street.  “Oh Samantha?  Just a word of warning. Don’t get pulled in, keep yourself intact.”  “Why?  What do you mean?”  “Oh you’ll see. Just heed my warning, ok?”  “Uh, OK…bye Roc.” “Bye, beautiful.”


            When darkness lured me up the staircase to his bedroom later, it was like crossing the threshold into another man’s home.  Hi bed was an unruly mess; the blankets and sheets were strewn everywhere, pieces of clothing were dropped like Hansel’s bread in a line leading to the bathroom.  A large framed print of a graphic black and white typescript hung over the bed.  It read, “You must learn to Be Bad before you can Be Good.”  I tiptoed out of there as if I were exiting a crime scene, leaving none of my own traces behind.  I guess I won’t be sleeping in this bed tonight.  It is probably too hard anyway.
            As I proceeded down the hall, I came upon the guest bedroom.  The bed there was exceedingly better—carefully made and tended, sheets tucked in, corners neatly folded. There was a note on the bedside table.  It read:  Samantha-I hope you can be comfortable here.  Enjoy your stay.-J.  I think I can take this note as a confirmation that this room is where I should be sleeping.  The room was lovely with its own private bathroom, complete with claw foot tub and lavender oil resting on the window ledge.  I brought my bag in the room and proceeded to fill the empty drawers with my things.  Everything thing fit just perfectly-almost too perfectly, and I pulled out my nightgown to change.  Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted, through the closet door slightly ajar, a long black string; kind of out of character for the neatness and primness of the room.  I walked over to the door and peered inside.  The string was apparently coming from the literally packed in clothing on a much-too-small garment rack.  I pulled the string, and something fell from off the top of the rack.  This strange string led me to a very small lovingly hand-knit sweater that was quickly unraveling, and if I had pulled harder, would have quickly disappeared.  Now, I’ve seen everything now.  I simply cannot figure this guy out.  What in the world, in his unpredictable world, could he possibly use this for?  I stood there simply stunned as I felt something brush across my leg and froze….  

Friday, May 18, 2012

First Draft of a Poem

I wrote this poem a few weeks ago, as Winter took over again after a late winter Buffalo heatwave.  It may need some working through, but I'll let it go out into the world as-is.

This Year
Susan Harris-Gamard

This year
The buds of the magnolia have browned
Like a half-charged memory growing ill
                                                And withered in the new light.
Extinguished by the faceted brilliance
 Of Sir Frost’s shocking freeze.
The sonorous footfalls of his size 12 boots
Echo long beyond any welcome.

This mere shadow of a bloom heals me
With its smothered vow of surety
And the soft cry of hope within
Its withering frame.
As the brown petals meet the ground
My own arms unfurl to greet
Master Spring as He Leaps Forward
In grassy slippers as delicate as breath.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mrs. Dalloway Revisited

The following story is my response to Michael Cunningham's own response to Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway:

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself,”   Richard most heartily proclaimed at the edge of the diving board, expectedly drunk.  “But, she has yet to return, the miserable whore!” as he careens backwards, nearly missing a bikini-clad nymphette, languorously lounging on a diaphanous silver pool float.  As 3 satyrs proceed to save him from the bottom of the pool, “Mrs. Dalloway” finally returns, irises in hand along with a bottle of Scotch most earnestly requested by her long-time love.
            The party is in full swing, women already topless, men lapsing into lasciviousness.  Mrs. Dalloway, otherwise known as Clarissa, hands the bottle to a gasping Richard, and proceeds to enter the doors leading to their villa.  She wafts in like a cool breeze and breathes a sigh of relief to escape the madness of Richard and his notorious parties.  She begins to chop, swiftly slicing some onions, as if they were her own tightly knotted apron strings.  Cooking is her escape, her creative outlet, the Tuscan air, her muse.  She merely needs to float through these days, like a lark wisping through the treetops, descending only when safety has been secured.
            Clarissa could block out the sounds of the party.  She had been doing this for years and is now quite good at it.  Her home, her haven, will not be penetrated, even by Richard for whom she had thrown away everything.  Clarissa thinks of Peter sometimes, vaguely, remembering only those moments when she felt safe and secure.  Peter was always the reliable one, someone everyone could count on for a helping hand, a small loan, or, if all else failed, a shoulder to cry on.  Sometimes she wished for that shoulder again, but Peter is seemingly thousands, if not millions, of miles away now, somewhere.  Clarissa never knew where Peter ended up—is he married with 2 or 3 children now with a wife who could only deserve him? 
             She opens the French doors to the North side of the house to feel the air and to catch the smell coming off the fields of basil and lavender just past the next hill.  How she prefers this to the smells of stale booze and rancid suntan oil on sweaty bodies.  Closing the doors to the South, she returns to her chopping and escapism.  Peter.  If she had only followed his lead, allowed him to direct her path in life, surrendered.  Right now, it sounds idyllic:  a life of never having to worry, a life of certainty.  But, what about freedom?  How would she feel to have that taken away?  Or the pleasure of being here, living in paradise, instead of the streets of Detroit and its smells of burning coal and solemn sewer drains, a few cabbages planted in the side yard?  Or being without Richard whom she loves beyond all else and more?  Richard has his quirkiness, his addictions, but Clarissa can be herself with him.  A full, complete self, not a self only present because of another.  The South doors open, and Richard enters the room, a bit of vomit snaking onto his cheek.  “Clarissa, where are you?  Come join us.  We saved the best float for you!”  He plants a messy kiss on her cheek and grabs her rump.  “Just have to finish the pork,” breathlessly subtracting herself from his grasp.  “I will come.”  What is this terror?  What is this ecstasy?  What is it that fills me with this extraordinary excitement?*   It is Richard, for there he is, in all his earth bound, revelatory glory. 

* From Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Harcourt edition, pg. 194.    

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Esquiline Hill: A Short, Short Story

I know it is here somewhere.  Guido said to look just past Vittorio Emmanuele, the wedding cake monstrosity monument that will always be part of my unwished for first impression of Rome.  Well, I passed it five minutes ago, but still no sign of the Esquiline Hill.  I have passed many churches-most very Baroque, very Italian, but none living up to the grandiosity of Santa Maria Maggiore.  I’ve never actually seen it, just studied its non-memorable mosaics in Art History 101.  Alright, let’s get the map out again.  What intersection am I at anyway?  Come on, I am an American already, used to the simple grid system of streets.  Roman streets are on a grid yet not a logical grid—as illogical as anyone could imagine.  I start to notice the ground rising ahead of me—slightly.  Could this be the Hill?  I ascend gradually, flowing into the populace around me.  People are more numerous, livelier, somehow different.  Younger?  Possibly.
  I enter a group of young people, presumably college students, laughing and speaking the Italian language faster than ever before, hands moving in time with the torrent of words.  We begin our ascent up a steep and rugged set of stairs, single file like a line of soldiers marching towards someone else’s battle.  I drop backwards a pace as their younger thighs bring them closer to the top.  As I conquer the final step, a vast garden greets me, the sun warming my chilled hands as I stand amazed at the sight of my destination.   Santa Maria Maggiore is here, and so must Guido be.  A massive structure has appeared before my eyes, like magic. The sun almost avoiding its mere presence as it is draped in shadows. 

My anticipation blends with a sense of anxiety as I scan the crowd for his face. I do remember him.  In fact, I’ve been thinking of him for days—his white T-shirt, most likely carefully ironed by his devoted mama, his black hair, carefully coiffed like a neat cloud within the atmospheric vapors of Acqua di Gio cologne.  A slightly mysterious man, for an Italian, he roped me right in with his knowledge of America, his ease with the English language, and his empathy for my tourist identity within such a vast city.  The gardens carry me to what appears to be the apse end of the church.  People around me are taking in the warmth from sun, enjoying a Roman early spring. The cool air being infused with a burning heat, a premonition of what is to come as the weeks progress towards summer. 
I reluctantly pass the sun-drenched spectators to become enveloped in shade and taken over by the underlying cold of the air coming out of the church doors.  I see a man standing deep in the shadows of one of the archways.  I do not recognize him.  Since there is no one else around to identify as my beloved Guido, I take a seat on the stone bench next to the doors.  The man slowly moves towards me, studying my features.  He asks, “Scusi, are you named Sonya?”  Why yes I am?”, I say hesitantly, wondering suddenly about Guido’s absence.  “Hello, very nice to meet you, my name is Reno.  I am a friend of Guido.  He wanted me to apologize.  His wife is home and so he could not come.”  I freeze.  “His wife?”, I reply, both shocked and befuddled.  “Oh, you did not know?  I am here to take you for some pasta.  I promised Guido I would.  Come.  Let’s get out of this cold place and feel the sun.”  He pauses.  “By the way, I am not married.”  He smiles, teeth as white as his t-shirt, and offers me his arm, as we descend the sunny side of Esquiline Hill.  We take each step down, legs extending in unison, with a rhythm only a conductor could fully appreciate.  We reach the base of the hill, meeting as two separate people with an as yet unknown bond uniting us.   

It all began with a kiss.  Seemingly out of nowhere, Guido descended into my life like a grenade, willfully deposited right next to me, to go off some time in the future.  He must have been watching me for a while.  Everyday, my route was the same:  take my cappuccino from the neighborhood cafĂ© into the park next door.  I would bring my journal with me for the slim chance I may be inspired to write something.  One random day without any significance, he sat down next to me and talked.  I felt like I had met him before and had known him for many years.  The things we spoke of on that bench could not have been spontaneous or unplanned.  He had to have a motive somewhere in those words.  How he knew me so well, I’m not sure.  The fact that he knew so much never crossed my mind.  When he kissed me, I felt myself coming undone, a part of me unzipping from myself to merge with a part of him.  Seeing this as some kind of loss was not an option.  It was only a gain in my mind, my very precious souvenir of my short sojourn in Italy. 
When he brought me back to his apartment, caution was not on the agenda.  My brain was shut off by passion, the only thought I had was feeling his skin against mine, those lips entering me to touch my innermost reaches. Like a modern day Goldilocks, I would not notice the two sets of shoes, the woman’s trench coat strewn over the back of the chair, the carefully tended house with a woman’s touch.  The bed was much too comfortable, but all the more for my pleasure.  My back touched those crisply ironed sheets, my hair touching the same blankets that she nestled within that very morning before leaving on business. The robe he gave me after my shower fit my own form just right, but never did I question this.  I only thought how perfect this moment was and how perfect he was for me, with me.

Monday, April 2, 2012

I'm Still Here

Funny, but I have been so incredibly busy lately that I haven't thought of my blog in a long, long time.  Just wanted to let you know I am still here:  trudging through the final weeks of grad school, still trying to write in between seemingly insurmountable reading assignments.  I have actually started writing some fiction, and I hope to continue to get deeper into some of the stories I have started recently.  I have 3 1/2 weeks left of coursework, but I hope to return soon to bring out some of my writing and some of the things that have inspired me these days.   

Until then, here is a quote by Virginia Woolf that has got me thinking as of late, and amazingly reflects my own life:

"I have no time to describe my plans.  I should say a good deal about The Hours, and my discovery; how I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters; I think that gives exactly what I want; humanity, humour, depth. The idea is that the caves shall connect, & each comes to daylight at the present moment.” 

I have carved out a little niche for myself here at home, my own cave, a room of my own, and I am anxious to get all those words down on paper.  The novel The Hours by Michael Cunningham inspires me to try my hand at fiction and perhaps a novel, someday.  Here is one of my favorite passages:

"Venture too far for love, she tells herself, and you renounce citzenship in the country you've made for yourself. You end up just sailing from port to port. Still, there is this sense of missed opportunity. Maybe there is nothing, ever, that can equal the recollection of having been young together. Maybe it's as simple as that. Richard was the person Clarissa loved at her most optimistic moment...It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and Clarissa is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later, to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk, the anticipation of dinner and a book...What lives undimmed in Clarissa's mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond as mosquitoes droned in the darkening air. There is still that singular perfection, and it's perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other." The Hours, Michael Cunningham