EDITOR’S NOTE BY HALIMAH MARCUS
Lauren Wallach’s “A Higher Purpose” opens with a description of the unnamed narrator’s apartment: “When I moved in I was told the peephole had a double-sided mirror in, so inside sees out, but outside sees itself.” As the narrator discovers, the peephole was installed backwards, so the outside sees in and the inside sees itself. Either way the peephole is a stand-in for the narrator’s preoccupations: her inside trying to see out, her outside trying to see in, both met, over and over, with their own reflection.
Such koans characterize Lauren Wallach’s writing; her sentences are at once precious and built to last. Set in her hometown of Brooklyn, “A Higher Purpose” calls to mind Wallach’s metropolitan predecessors — Renata Adler, with her chiseled, meandering paragraphs, and Paula Fox, who wrote Desperate Characters about the same neighborhood that houses “A Higher Purpose.” Comparisons that are not only motivated by geography and gender, but earned.
The story begins in summer and leads eventually to Halloween, an evening when strangers can ask, Who are you?, or even, What are you?, and the answer is finite. Uncomplicated. This Halloween the narrator dresses as Cabiria from Felini’s Nights of Cabiria. She is mistaken once for a blonde Betty Boop and once, possibly, for a prostitute. But she is not deterred by these misidentifications: “They knew I was someone specific, someone relatively meaningful.”
To be someone specific and relatively meaningful is the life goal of a certain kind of person, the kind who wants to have a modest impact, who wants to be remembered and closely observed. It is also the gambit of fiction: to position its characters as people we would recognize in a lineup, with whom we’d know how to start a conversation.
This story achieves that and more. To read it feels almost like starting a collection, such is the attention to objects, to images, to fleeting impressions. As the narrator puts it, “things begin to feel important… An importance I had not been aware of, floating around in the world.”
Editor-in-Chief, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading
A Higher Purpose
by Lauren Wallach, original fiction recommended by Electric Literature
If anyone asks me how many times I have moved in the last year, I am embarrassed. Five times. I don’t know why I keep moving, but there is always a concrete reason on the outside. Not everything needs an explanation. There might be inside reasons. But the outside reasons are all very reasonable.
I recently moved into a room with my cat, Theodore Valentine, in an apartment where another cat lives. The room has two doors; one big heavy one that leads outside to the main hallway, which I never use, and one flimsy wooden door that leads to the kitchen and the rest of the apartment. It’s a nice size and I try to pretend that the rest of the apartment isn’t there, that this is all there is, just my room and my cat. But then the other cat scrapes at the door. I get little notes on the kitchen counter.
Two windows face a parking lot — it’s a room with lots of sky and sun. I don’t have any curtains yet. The windows lead into the closet door mirrors, so it’s like a double sky and the room feels much bigger. There is a toilet attached to the room. Not a full bathroom, just this one toilet. The door has a peephole and a heavy metal latch that slides side to side. When I moved in I was told the peephole had a double-sided mirror in, so inside sees out, but outside sees itself.
One time I tried to look into the hallway but all I could see was a miniature representation of the apartment and my face. Had they installed the peephole incorrectly? I went into the hallway and peered into the peephole. At first it was the same experience as from the inside, my own reflection, a mirror. But as I looked further in I could see past my eye, into the apartment, into my room. I saw the toilet. Where I pee every morning and every night, where I go to do the things I don’t want anyone to see me doing, in front of the windows that have no curtains.
I described my room to Pablo in a story we wrote together, a “Co-lab” he called it. This was Pablo’s proposal to me after we hadn’t talked in almost a year: a writing collaboration. We were each to write two very short stories, and then put these four stories together, separately, but also as one. This was my first story to Pablo.
I liked describing my room to Pablo in our story because I began to feel like he knew my room. It made me feel less alone. As if I had a visitor already.
Around this time, soon after I moved in, a smell began. It came from the canal. Slowly everything became pumpkins. The smell was both the canal, a cool salty garbage wetness, and pumpkins. After my shower I would put on the pumpkin body butter. On my arms. My legs. By October there were pumpkins everywhere. We had an event at the bookstore, a book about pumpkins. The author left his bag of small pumpkins, which he said he’d be back to pick up. But he never came back. We spread out the pumpkins all over the store. One morning I found one small pumpkin that had been chewed and gnawed away. All the rumors about the rat were true. My coworkers had seen the rat, but I never had. I had only seen evidence: rat shit. But still, it wasn’t until the eating of the pumpkin that it became a reality to me. Perhaps I had thought, maybe it’s not shit. (I could deny shit that was very small, but I could not deny a chewed-up pumpkin.)
I had the most beautiful sky from my new room. Every room could be said to be “new” at some point, but I had only been here for a month and a half. It was still new. I hoped to not move for a long time. I enjoyed this room. The parking lot below. The hum of the massive water tank on top of an adjacent roof. I was on the top floor. I saw all the most beautiful cloud formations. The morning sunrise. Theodore Valentine and I watched it together. When it got dark I had one red curtain to cover one window. I decided that my room would no longer be new once I had a real visitor over. Then I could move.
I called it the “Co-lab” too, now. “I have an idea for the next Co-lab,” I wrote to him. “Co-lab!” Pablo exclaimed. We always got excited about the Co-lab. I told him we will take the pictures we’ve been sending to each other on our phones, and make a small book of them. We will write small stories next to each picture. Pablo said, “That’s a wonderful idea.” Though we continue to send each other photographs, we do not start any new stories.
The theme of the original Co-lab was “control.” Pablo suggested it. I added the idea of summer, as we were just leaving it behind. Summer control. Or control in the summer. My mind was blank. What control did I have? I grew cold, thinking summer was coming to an end. My black leggings were lost in the last move. I had nothing to wear. There was cat vomit on my blankets. I did not know whether it was from Theodore Valentine, or the roommates’ fat cat. I lived with a couple. (Theodore Valentine rarely threw up, so I had my suspicions.) I slept practically naked with a thin floral sheet. Soft cotton that is like silk, very expensive, but mine was just old. The oldest cotton sheets. White. Yellow flowers. So peaceful.
This apartment was in an area of Brooklyn that wasn’t entirely its own neighborhood, but was in between two other neighborhoods. One was the neighborhood I grew up in, and the other one was my future neighborhood, and where the bookstore was. I explained this move to people as having a “black cloak” lifted from me. Perhaps the cloak had been draped over my shoulders.
Men were reappearing in my life. I saw Paul on Court Street and we began to talk again. Paul had disappeared from my life many months ago after the subway argument. An argument that became my second Co-lab story.
There was a man I was seeing who always used to think that we were arguing when I thought we were just having a conversation. Why are we arguing? he’d ask while I basked in the glow of having just made a point. When we actually did argue it was on the subway. Like the conversations though, it couldn’t go on. Not here, he’d say, you’re drunk. I slid over two seats, as our acquaintances across were signaling us to move closer, and turned to see where he was. He was staring at the empty seat between us. It had strange scars and marks. Engravings. I couldn’t decide if they were grotesque or interesting. We both stared at the seat. He wouldn’t sit in it. And so we rode this way, the seat between us, until I got off at 14th Street.
He never remembered that subway seat incident. There are many things he doesn’t remember. More and more each day. I feel it is my mission to be his memory. Because it’s one thing to be alone and it’s quite another to be the only one who knows and not be alone. I think. I’ve estimated that he doesn’t remember about half the things that were said or that happened.
We were debating subjective vs. objective truth. Très classic. Because of his objection to objectivity, it didn’t matter that he didn’t remember. He believes in interpretations of moments and doesn’t trust my way of thinking.
His name was Paul, which I wouldn’t have mentioned, except it seems relevant.
The same name but in a different language. I had added the line: Something about him reminded me of you. In the final version, Pablo did not include this line.
Pablo’s two stories involved a cowboy and his sister. They were well written and funny, but there were certain things I wanted to know. That I wanted him to reveal about himself. For example, I wanted to know what his room was like. I wanted to be inside of it the way he had been inside of mine. I wanted someone to remind him of me. I wanted to know who he was thinking of. Pablo put our stories together and sent them back to me with a title: Tight Grip: Four Summer Stories. I didn’t know how I felt about Tight Grip as a title. I told him, I don’t know how I feel about this title. In fact, I didn’t know how I felt about the story at all. What was it even about anymore, this strange collage? I told him I think it needs to be longer. I told him it’s not finished yet. I told him that a new title, the right title will appear to us if we continue. Pablo told me that he could only conceive in small parts. We would not make it longer; we would not continue. I still wondered about the title.
When I lived on Court Street, after I had moved out of my father’s apartment, I could see inside a movie theater from the windows. I lived here in the winter only, and I particularly liked to see into the movie theater on very cold or snowy nights. I could never see an actual theater, only the hallway. The concession stands — popcorn, escalator, cardboard human-sized displays, people, outlines, shadows, figures. When I moved into this new room, I could still see bodies in a building. I was reminded of the theater and that image because it was becoming colder now and because once again I was across from a big building. This one wasn’t a theater. This one was a textile studio, a “center” they called it. You couldn’t tell it was a textile center from the windows I saw into. But when you walked by on the street, you could see the entire place full of looms.
There were other large buildings near here, which were more interesting to me than the textile center. There were many cheap hotels in this neighborhood, and a casket warehouse. Everyday I bicycled to work I passed the casket warehouse, right before the small bridge, next to the canal. I passed it in the afternoons on my way home, too, but their doors were shut, and I never noticed it — there were no obvious signs. In the mornings the gates were open. I would look inside and see rows and rows of caskets. Sometimes a casket would be on the street with a man by its side, wheeling it from or to a truck. It was a strange feeling to see all those new caskets. I found it ironic that just over on the other side of the canal there was an event space that held weddings. In the mornings the casket warehouse was open and the event space closed, and at night the wedding parties were happening, and the casket warehouse was closed. I would love to have my own event over the canal one day. (Once, many years ago, I danced on a small boat docked in this canal. Another time, I stood in the rain over the canal and heard a song from a wedding party, Wise men say, only fools… Once I took a photograph of the snow falling over the canal and saw a cat walking on the ledge and saw two ducks in the water. In the photograph there are no animals, only the snow, the water, the darkness.) I wrote in my diary about how I wanted a man from the casket warehouse to befriend me. It almost became a story. I wrote that the man’s name was Pablo and he became my new friend and replaced Pablo. So that there was no more Pablo. Only my new friend at the casket warehouse who would take me in and let me explore and we would go out for a drink. Soon after I wrote this, a man at the casket warehouse began speaking to me. Nothing intense. It wasn’t until it was much colder when this began to happen. He was all bundled up in a winter jacket and a scarf. He had an incredible smile that seemed like out of a movie. “Good morning young lady!” he would say to me. Or he would say, “Be careful on that ice!” Sometimes he would call out to me after I had already reached the bridge, “You have a good day now, young lady!” “Bye!” I would call back, waving. And he would wave from his distance. I enjoyed this interaction. He made me happy.
With time, the new apartment was not very good for me. The fat cat was always trying to get into my room. When I wouldn’t let it in it would scrape at my door. I found Theodore once with blood on his little white fur face hiding under the bed. After that I always kept my door shut. The cat would continue to scrape. This was a big, slow, fat cat. I liked this cat at first, but soon I did not like this cat. I realized in time it was not the cat I actually disliked, but the roommates, who left me strange notes insinuating that I was the reason the cats were not friends. “The cats have to become friends ASAP,” one note read soon after I moved in. It was an aggressive note. I knew I couldn’t stay there for very long.
I have a small porcelain clown with a cloth body, dressed in a silk green jester’s outfit. My brother gave me this clown a few years ago. He said it reminded him of me. I connect to clowns. Not big scary clowns. Subtle, small clowns. Like Gesolmina from Fellini’s La Strada. When I walk across the floor of my room the little bells on the clowns hat shake and chime, ring. For the longest time I didn’t know what the small ringing sound was. I was both happy and sad to find it was the clown in the end. Happy that I had gotten to the bottom of the mystery. Sad because, it was only the little clown.
This year Pablo wasn’t going to be anything for Halloween. He had recently moved back to Mexico City. He said he wouldn’t be going to any parties. He had been invited to a party in Brooklyn, which he could not attend (because he was in Mexico). A magazine’s birthday party. He asked me to go for him, and I went. Three times he asked if I was going. By the third, I felt it wasn’t so much a question, but a request. “So are you going to this party or not?” “Yes,” I said, “I will go.” We were talking in Gchat. He sent over a smiley face with sunglasses, which I took as a big deal. I had never seen Pablo send a smiley face of any sort before. I felt good to be going to the party for Pablo. The party was just another “literary party,” and I wouldn’t know anybody. But now that Pablo had asked me three times if I was going, and sent a smiley face with sunglasses, it was important. I love it when things begin to feel important. Especially when someone else is the one telling me it’s important. An importance I had not been aware of, floating around in the world.
I said, “Do you want me to go around and tell everyone how great you are?” He said, “I want you to wear a beard and tell everyone you’re me. AND tell them how great I am. AND get funding for my show.” “So you have a beard now?” “Yes,” he wrote, “Huge beard.”
There was a dance class I wanted to go to before the party; I knew I would be late. I wrote to Pablo, “Going to be late to the party, but ‘we’ will be there.” He said, “Tell the ladies of the magazine I say hello!” Pablo told me the show he created, a monologue, was about being lost and sad. This is also why he went back to Mexico. This is also why I have to be him tonight. Lost and sad. The ladies bothered me. “There won’t be men?” I asked. “There will be men…” and he said some other things, but I liked just this part. Maybe I would find someone tonight.
At the party I told people I’m Pablo. They looked at me with sly smiles and say, “What a cute Pablo.” I had a photograph taken of me with two paper chickens. Chickens were the theme. I wanted to send the photograph to Pablo, but I didn’t. I told him about the photograph. I sent him a photograph of the note I wrote on the big birthday card. It said: Pablo wishes he were here.
“Who will you be this year?” Pablo asked. It was almost Halloween. I told him I would be a variation of a Fellini character. He didn’t care that much for Fellini. He said he would give it another try. This reassured me. No matter how many times Pablo disappeared or was silent, he always had a way of reassuring me throughout time. In this instance, he said he would give Fellini another try. I was reassured.
On Halloween, I was not a variation of a character though. I was an actual character. I was Cabiria, from Nights of Cabiria. The movie is described like this: A waifish prostitute wanders the streets of Rome looking for true love but finds only heartbreak. Even though La Strada is my favorite movie, I decided I did not want to dress like a clown. I did not want to dress like Gesolmina, who is either wearing rags or a raggy clown outfit. I wanted to dress like Cabiria, and the truth is, I had the entire outfit already sitting in my closet. Just from life. I was only a little worried that I connected so thoroughly with these two characters who are both destitute and abused. Because they are also very strong and serve a higher purpose. They are connected to a higher order, to the under (or over) current. I know probably most people would not say they are strong characters because they get tricked by men. Their higher purpose is to expose something inside of a person. To be open. To break open. It can be found inside Gesolmina’s song that she plays on the trumpet. It’s the song that has no name. Nobody knows where it came from. It’s the song that reminds the Strong Man. Reminds him of her. Makes him remember. When he remembers her he inquires. When he inquires he learns she is dead. When he learns she is dead he can feel. He has let her in. Guilietta Masina has now become my favorite actress. With some research, I found out we were the same height, 5”2. She was married to Fellini, and this reassured me.
I am not a prostitute but one time I made money having men touch my feet. A foot fetish club. It was in the basement of a restaurant with hookahs that we could smoke for free. An experiment. I didn’t stay very long, and left after I had made the amount I had designated for myself. I found the experience disturbing. But I was glad I did it, as if I was always meant to carry around this sort of secret. It was disturbing to give someone pleasure and to feel none of that same sort of pleasure. But one time I sat next to a different sort of man who didn’t know what to do. I don’t think he had a real foot fetish. He put my legs in his lap and he touched my feet and we talked. I liked the feeling. To be touched.
I smiled to myself, inside, when Pablo told me he liked women’s shoes. He was upset when he found himself staring at the woman in front of him on line at the grocery store, admiring her shoes. I remembered when we met he admired my black Italian ballet flats.
“Do you believe in god the mother?” Two girls were standing in front of me on Court Street. I thought about it. “Yes,” I said. “Do you want to learn more?” they asked. “How would I learn more?” “Right here,” they said. “The Bible?” I asked. “In my bag,” she said. “Will you read me a quote?” I asked. “It will be two quotes,” the other said. “Two?” “Yes.” “Ok,” I said, “two.” They read me two quotes. The wife of a sheep. “Do you want to learn more?” They asked. I shook my head no. “Just remember,” one of them said, “this isn’t a coincidence that we stopped to tell you about god the mother. Everything has a reason.” I smiled as I walked away. Even though I didn’t believe I was meant to learn more from the Bible or from those girls, I liked what she said at the end.
Pablo sent me a shrine. This was the first photograph either of us sent each other. La Virgen de Guadalupe. The shrine is very colorful. Bright pink and many bright green plants including cacti. Guadalupe is on top of what looks like a small stone staircase that has water running down it, a small waterfall. A statue man bends on one knee to praise her. “Why did you send this to me?” I asked. “I don’t know,” Pablo said, “It’s a nice shrine.”
I spent two days preparing and shopping for my Halloween costume. They both were on days that I saw the therapist. One week, then the next. I had begun to see the therapist again. I can’t say my therapist because I did not feel like he was mine. I didn’t think he was the therapist for me. But because I knew the time and effort it would take to find another, and even then I might not connect to them either, I was temporarily still seeing this one. I had written him a letter several months back, explaining why I was ending our sessions. “It’s not your fault,” I wrote. “I think I need someone who is at least half a mystic.” In the last session he proposed that maybe he was more of a mystic than I thought. I despised him in that moment. I was continuously frustrated by him. But the more I was frustrated by him, the more I was able to connect to myself. I went in feeling doubtful and insecure about my decisions. He would say all the wrong things and ask all the wrong questions. I left so angry that I was able to believe in myself again. I was brought back to a deep place within myself, where not a single other person knows what is right or what is wrong. Not even psychology knows.
My father worked near where the therapist worked. We had a plan to meet for coffee before a session because I had left certain articles of clothing at his apartment, which I now needed. Two Thursdays in a row we did this. It felt like a permanent ritual, but it only lasted these two weeks. The first delivery was hats. These were my velvet hats. Many years ago I made hats. I used to sell them at the flea markets in Brooklyn, and at small boutiques. They came in black, purple, and crushed raspberry. Inside was lined with fleece, very warm. Sometimes I would attach a small antique pin to the side. I only needed one hat in particular, my favorite one, the one I used to wear, the black one with the gold pin. In the days proceeding our date to meet, my father kept telling me he could not find the black one. “I can only find a purple one and a wine-colored one,” he kept saying. “The black one has to be there!” I said. Each day, in the days proceeding, he would say, “Only purple and wine!” Finally I said, “Ok, bring whatever you can find.” “I’ll bring the purple and the wine,” he said.
I found him standing on a crowded street corner. 31st and Broadway. He was holding a bag with dark material peeping out from the top. When I reached him he handed me the bag. We stood still, face to face, while people rushed passed us on either side. A maze of people, we created a still center and did not move. I looked in. “The black one!” I exclaimed. “You found it!” “That’s the wine colored one,” he said. “No it’s not. It’s the black one,” I said. “It looks like wine to me,” he said. I suddenly saw that he was right. As I removed the hat from the bag, I saw its color had changed. It was no longer black, but had a purple-red tint.
The second delivery was on Halloween. The fur coat. My short, champagne colored fur coat, with the short sleeves and the pearls sewn into the collar. This was the coat that Cabiria wore. On this day, it was unusually warm. Sticky. Outside it started drizzling. I was wearing gold ballet slippers. I put my black scarf around my head to protect from the rain on my way to the subway. I walked over the canal and called my father. “Hi,” I said. “Hi,” he said. “Did you remember to bring the coat?” I asked. “What do you mean did I remember?” He sounded hurt. “I thought it would be funny if you forgot it, all this planning.” “How could I forget?” He said, “I couldn’t sleep because of this coat. I was up all night afraid I would forget.”
The canal was always so beautiful no matter when it was. Now it was green and dirty, and the rain fell lightly on it. “So where am I meeting you again?” he asked. “That café nearby, I forget the name, near 31s and Broadway.” “Right by Macy’s!” he exclaimed, suddenly very happy. It made him happy that it was by Macy’s, a place of the past, somewhere familiar, old timey, so familiar, like nothing ever changes sometimes.
At the café, my father told me about a story he read. It was a strange, dark story, where nothing good happens. My father smiled. “It reminded me of you,” he said. This made us both happy. In all the weeks my father and I haven’t seen each other, we were being connected through the darkness. In the story, there is a woman who works in a sanatorium. She begins to date the doctor, and the doctor falls in love with her and proposes. Just before they are to get married, he says he can’t go through with it, he fires her, gives her a ticket home, and that’s the end of it, the woman is left to wonder her entire life, why. “Isn’t that sort of thing always happening to you?” My father asked. “It is,” I said. My father typically does not like sad stories or movies. He only likes sad songs, but for everything else, he wants a happy ending. “Did you like the story?” I asked. “I like happy endings,” he said, “but,” he paused, “she reminded me of you.” “The writer or the main character?” I felt as if the difference between the two would change me. He paused, uncertain. “I guess both.”
Inside the coffee shop I sat with my two bags, one of hats, one of my usual things, and my father sat with his umbrella. It started to rain torrentially. I realized my favorite part about going to see the therapist was seeing my father before. I didn’t even like the therapist. But I liked seeing my father before.
It was dark by the time I got home. The air still moist and muggy. My hands full of bags. I had bought the perfect wig for Cabiria. I made my way up the stairs to my apartment. I put the key into the door but it would not open. The new bottom lock had been accidentally locked, though it was supposed to be left open. My key to this lock was inside my room, I had never attached it to my keychain. I looked around the dirty hallway. I looked over at the other door: the heavy door with the peephole leading to my room. I have those keys, I thought. I had those keys on my Betty Boop key chain. It’s the gambler Betty Boop. She sits on three dice and fans open a deck of playing cards. She also wears a crown. There were four keys to the peephole door, the door I had written about in our story. They were shiny and unused. I had opened the door when I moved in, and also when I inspected the peephole. But I had never opened it with a key. I looked at the door and looked down at the keys. I looked at them closely and saw, for the first time, that there were words on them. On all four, the same two words. Each key had written on it GRIP TIGHT. Pablo’s title reversed. But the same.
I sent Pablo a photograph of my hand holding the key so that GRIP TIGHT was visible. (Betty Boop was also visible.) This was the second photograph to Pablo. The first had been a photograph of my accordion, after he had sent me La Virgen de Guadalupe. I bought the accordion in the summer and learned two warm-up songs and only one real song: My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean.
At first Pabo was unimpressed by the coincidence, “I don’t think much about those sorts of things, as you know.” On another day he sounded frightened, “What are we supposed to do with that?” On another day he teased me, “You get disillusioned a lot, don’t you?” And once, “You’re the first person I thought of.”
These are the questions I wanted to explore with Pablo: What does it mean that Pablo’s title was on my key. That my key had the words to the title Pablo chose. That he has the key to my “room,” a chamber of my mind. Or that I hold his key. But it’s my key. But his words. Reversed. Or that I have the key to open a door to a room in him. Or that I have the key but am locked out and can’t get there. That I only knew I had his words with me all along because I was locked out. Had I not been locked out. Or that I choose not to open that door. But I do. Or that he does not let me in. But it’s my room. I’m already there. I’m sitting inside it. I’m getting dressed. I’m changing.
On Halloween night someone said, “Love the blonde Betty Boop.” “I’m not her this year,” I said. Even though a lot of people consciously did not know Cabiria, they seemed to unconsciously know who I was. They knew I was someone specific, someone relatively meaningful.
I felt as though I had become Cabiria. I wished for a sexual experience that night but it didn’t happen. Yet even this fit with being Cabiria. (Even though she was a prostitute, she never actually had sex with anyone.) I had the short blonde wig. The old short fur jacket. I wore a long pencil skirt with very subtle sparkle to it. I had my homemade velvet top with a great amount of cleavage. I had makeup and deep red lipstick. I had five inch heeled platforms. They were outrageous and Cabiria would not have worn them. They were much too impractical. However, if she had them in her closet, on an excited night, maybe she would have.
After I dressed and had a small glass of vodka and vegetable juice, I left my apartment and went down the stairs. I brought my gold ballet slippers that I kept in my elephant purse, just in case. I first went into the restaurant below the apartment where one of the roommates waitressed. “Stop in so I can see your costume,” she had said. It wasn’t crowded, a few tables full. Everyone stared when I walked in, as if they knew I was a prostitute. They stared and hushed and looked away. Don’t they know it’s Halloween? I wondered. I walked to the end of the restaurant, walked back, I leaned on the bar, waiting for the bartender to notice me. A couple sitting at a table stared at me incredulously with that type of smile on their faces. “The bathroom’s there,” the man said with a smirk, pointing. “I’m not here for the bathroom,” I said. “I’m Cabiria.” I couldn’t tell if they understood my meaning. The bartender came over. I asked for my roommate; he said she left already.
I took to the street. Halfway up the block, just across from the Holiday Inn that plays music outside, like a little club where no one ever goes, right over a massive driveway for trucks to unload, I fell.
I felt myself go down in slow motion as the music played in the background. I fell to the right. Since it was in slow motion, I had time, a little time, to plan out how I would land. It felt like an eternity before I landed. That long extra distance because of those shoes.
The objects leftover from Halloween that I bought and never used, sitting in bags inside my apartment: small trumpet kazoo, wooden flute, black wings, sheer gold fabric, red flowers on gauzy red material (one flower I cut out and used, pinned to black skirt).
Pablo said once: “What is interesting is that there are no explanations as to why these two people are here, or anything about the context of where they are.” He was talking about us.
There is a concrete wall just before the canal, just before the bridge. Some artists drew stencils into the wall of little images and little scenes. A cluster of small ghosts. One that stood out to me, which I photographed, was a small painting-stencil of a woman dancing with a silhouetted faceless man. He is an outline filled in white. That is all. She is in full color, wearing a dress that falls off her shoulders, smiling at the imaginary person taking the imaginary picture. There is no person. There is no picture. There is only me watching the couple on the wall over the canal.
The therapist liked to pose questions to me like, “Why did you think things would be different this time?”
I had discovered an old dream in an old diary from years ago. The dream had predicted the future that already occurred. “Pablo was in one of my dreams last night,” I had written. “We were going to work on something together, a collaboration, and he wanted to meet again, he wanted to keep a dialogue going. I agreed of course, to have a dialogue…” When I told Pablo about this found dream he said, “Yes, we always know what’s in our subconscious.” “But it was yours,” I said. “We also know what’s in other’s subconscious’s.” “Really?” “Yes.”
Damn, I said. Ow. I looked around. Nobody had seen me. I saw people in the dark distance but no one was close. I saw a dark, brown-red wetness coat over my stockings. There was blood inside my hands. Damn these shoes. I took them off and put on the gold ballet slippers. I felt more like Cabiria being my normal height. I adjusted my wig.
There was music playing from the Holiday Inn across the street. I walked on and just a few feet from where I fell, an older woman passed by, looked at me, “Nice hair,” she said. I was shocked. I felt a surge of something positive again inside me. We looked into each other’s eyes. I nodded at her, she at me. It was suddenly as if nothing had happened. Nothing at all. I adjusted my wig. Everything would be ok. Yes. Everything was back to normal. But now the woman was gone. I was suddenly scared to be so close to the earth. Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice. And it lights up the night. Oh, there was the music still. But where was Pablo? I smelled meat cooking. Hotel lights. Where was anyone.