johannah rodgers

 

from PORTRAITS AND CONVERSATIONS

 

 

She was still beautiful. It wasn’t some phase or some hand me down, it was a decision and if you disagreed with that or any other decision they made, possibly one with greater ramifications, though she tended to think that one’s taste in furnishings and silverware was a pretty big deal, then that was it. No, that wasn’t it exactly. Men focused solely on what they desired. Women, she found, ogled pretty things. She could compare herself to any animal, she guessed, but she compared herself to a bird because she sometimes saw people (men usually) admiring her the way they admire something they find attractive, a brightly colored bird for instance. But at a certain age that negative valuation no longer seemed possible, at least not for her; her neighbors probably continued it but as far as she was concerned it didn’t mean anything anymore: it was all about you, who you were, not whatever you weren’t or what you didn’t have. He had his own worries (there were many). Things you couldn’t plan for. She wondered if people ever stopped wanting. But there was something. And the slush and the gray. Unlike many of their friends she had not embraced self-help or Buddhism or extramarital affairs; the one and the other often going together. She used to measure things by comparison: better or worse, which made things easier, because if something were worse, if other lives were worse than hers, she could say “at least I’m not that.” She could have. She wondered what would happen if she walked into a room some day and in response to being asked who or what she was she answered simply, “I’m not.” Fire hazards, suffocation. If your furniture was made out of carved tree trunks and your silverware had twig patterns on it that was what you would live with. She was not any of the things she thought she was going to be and she didn’t have the slightest idea how that happened. Perhaps if they bought a dog. What then? He didn’t have time to think about much other than himself. It was comforting to know she was still desired, still wanted. Why hadn’t she had an affair? She used to plan and she did still, for some things, at least: her mother’s birthday, dinner parties, but not bigger things, like what she would do with her life. He would grow up and forget all about her. She could meet people at her son’s school or in the summers when they went away. Her husband. There were things they both disliked: matching furniture sets, badly made clothes, overly oblivious people (especially if they were very intelligent). In certain situations she felt like a bird, there to be admired but incapable of speaking.

. . .

Moments before the clock fell off the side table. Curiously its landing made more of a thump than a crash. You don’t know my neighbor. She does nothing but scream into her telephone all day. It doesn’t matter who’s on the phone. She just yells at them. Yes, she needs help but I don’t know who could stand talking to her. It’s not turrets it’s something else. It may have been a disease she invented just to get onto disability. Most of my building is on that and I think she just felt like an idiot for working a day-job so she invented this ailment. Stop trying to figure out what lies beyond language; it is all there is. What is the difference between epistemology and mere chatter? By moving her leg up and down she creates joules and heats the room slightly. She isn’t hot, just warm. Tell me something I don’t know. That should be easy. The head of a pencil is not shaped like a clown. The people downstairs are singing Billy Joel songs out loud. A bird alights on a branch. Wind is defined as air that is moving. If you’re so sure then how is it she didn’t know? Curious how I don’t always know what you are doing though I may and you don’t know it. It’s not surveillance, just habit. How many different things can one say every day? Chirping came easily to her. The white walls. Description or invention was a game we used to play. I was a passenger in a car driving through Cambridgeshire and I used the word diurnal in this game. Pockets of memory tied to words that then are attached to cars.

. . .

Life wasn’t stranger than she imagined, just more difficult. But why on that day of all others. She didn’t tell anyone of course. She knew I would do anything for her and hadn’t we agreed? It was just a given, like a before e, you know those words by heart or is it the e a words you’ve memorized. Was it a single decision or a series? No no decision my mother said she was upset and didn’t want to be by it putting things into categories I will forget this you decide but you can’t because only certain things happen small things putting the glasses in the cabinet the right way how you’ve always done it you know rituals don’t happen often these are the events other than the other events but that’s not the word for it more like occurrences accidents really there’s another word mishaps my neighbor buying a drum kit is something else entirely for instance you won’t live to be one hundred and thirty two you’re not supposed to yogurt won’t make you live that long too long to live but you live as you live while you are alive rules protocol wrong word and the intention there was no intention it was just selfish my father said which is an intention but I didn’t mention this he would forget or not forget just place it in the realm of impolite or inappropriate behavior (what is the difference) not to be considered she’s not family at least he said. He had to say something. A love that only exists between women Tolstoy wrote. There are only certain days that we care about or mark not like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, but inscribe the date a feeling remember your grandmother’s birthday or you make it up—one of those days in September you could ask but you don’t because she’s dead and you know it is the same day as her wedding anniversary bad luck to combine things in case something happens unexpectedly like pills drowning bathtub electrocution which never happens is just represented over and over on the tags attached to hair dryers.