Laurie Blauner

Posted on August 22, 2011

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Editor’s Pick

Found

She shivered because of the cold. Then she shivered again at the sheer mystery of the bear that inhabited her spare bedroom. The bulbous, brown nose, green rimmed eyes, fist-like ears, the combinations of no and why. Her vigorous hands pulled her sweater tighter around her. The dank and powdery smell of children permeated everything, her sweater, the kitchen counter, the very walls themselves. She thought: even now my life has a need to say something. A ruinous headache had just risen behind her brow and stained her indolent list of things to do.

1) Food. We were merely vessels, she decided, in so many words. The bloody-looking strawberries given away at work dripped over her wrists, sweet and pulpy, frail. “Echo,” she called to the door frame. She cut dusty mold holes from the red flesh, the seeds mocking her. She was unironed as usual. Cereal wobbled in its milk like broken skin, the small spoon seesawing on the edge of the bowl. Sewed claws rested at the door jamb. A sniffing and huffing sound barely entered the kitchen, patting her on the back as if to remind her to hurry the breakfast. “Echo,” even louder now. Her hands red. Her life becoming a home movie. She hadn’t envisioned that.

When she had been younger, before work, there had been whole seasons of dumpster diving. Crushed tissues and coffee grinds at the bottom, bones rising into the air, the smell of sour meat, wet cellophane that clothed her fingers, fruit browned and nibbled, soft and full of questions.

It was time, all that time she had to give up now. Just offering days as if they were groceries someone else had picked out and finally bought. The stitched pads flopped across the floor. A bear yawn. The bear stretching, surveying the damage.

She waited for her own demise, the whining and complaints, but they weren’t forthcoming. Instead an outstretched paw on a spoon, the clank of metal along the rim like a warning.

“Good,” the hole for lips said at his mouth.

“Hurry,” she said smoothing her clothes with her palms. Not yet trying on variations of a good face.

And she whisked his disguise off his body. New eyes, ears, nose, same mouth. The little boy emerged. The rumpled bear, a pile of bear. And then it started, the terrible unraveling.

“No,” he yelled. “No,” and he was crying, then screaming. “My bear.” So much noise from such a tiny boy.

I can’t live with a bear in the next room, she thought briefly.

But then there was so much pretending.

2) Work. What was it that she had always wanted? Did she find it hiking through gray boulders that transformed themselves into gray pebbles?

Light bulbs.

Carrots.

A chunk of fish swathed in plastic.

A can of peas.

They were scanned with the light of home movies, bagged, the money exchanged. Machines chattered, then slept. A gnat flew over and under her knuckles like a fidgeting pencil. The morsels would all be kept, eaten, digested. A warning tale concerning two children versus a witch. He called her Mama. Echo, the sounds that repeated. He already knew about the three bears when she got him. She took this job because they had to eat. With children, it couldn’t be too big or too little, but just the right amount, the right size.

A mother with a little boy stood in her nacreous light. The machines began winking. She watched the boy reach up to his mother’s pocket, pull it open, a slack mouth. Heady, metallic coins fell to the floor, landing in overlapping circles.

“Mine,” and he pointed to the floor.

“Taylor.” And she slapped his cheek until it glowed. “Pick them up.”

And he did, meekly handing them to her, without crying. Little lamb that he was. Good enough to eat.

“Here,” she said from behind the counter, in her apron, handing over their bags. The other mother. She could feel blood in her mouth where she had bitten her own cheek. No words of her own escaping. She was another kind of mother. So she hoped.

“Do you need help outside?” She could see the boy was all elbows and knees, a handprint of red streaked with dirt on the side of his face. His eyes floated in water, overfilled.

“No, thank you.”

It was what it was. They left. A mother needed to feed her boy and herself. A house needed to be laundered and grow robust. No peeling paint or holes, no linseed oil speckling the floors. She was learning. This other woman, who couldn’t save anyone if her life depended on it.

3) Painting. She reached for a pen at work, behind some blustery bags. Scraps of gestured paper fluttered to the linoleum. Just like the ones in her blue and yellow apron, on her walls, in her drawers at home, in her former studio. Proper breasts and legs, arms and shoulders, necks with their loose skin. Colorful, shattered bodies. Upside down and sideways. All that skin on the floor. A very naked floor. Phone numbers and lists were scribbled on the backs of them. These failures that resembled her palette. The to-dos all faceless, edged in black.

A customer stepped up, looked down, and said, “Oh.”

She scooped up the naughty bits that were left from her career as an artist. Now she was the mother of one, not of so many. She couldn’t look at the elderly man, in an old suit and tie, with white hair swallowing his ears, bony claws for hands.

Her fingers tapped, the nails trembling. Objects labeled with pictures of food were tallied and sent off. She missed the child pressed softly against her.

“What about love?” She had asked him at first.

“What about love?” Her echo.

It reminded her of life, but wasn’t really life, those combinations of yes on paper or canvas. The brushes waited in her spare room, nodding in an occasional breeze. She mixed a paint that seethed in its desires. The images were afflictions that seeped into her dreams.

Before the patter of little feet, the thumping clop of animal pads returned from school, she lay on the spare bed that was now covered with red fire engines. She thought: I could put him on a train and not look back. No one would be the wiser. She remembered coughing thick colors into expression on stretched canvas. Music flitted around her, light was voracious. She had added lines, shadows, chiaroscuro, where toys now stood, all askew. A diffuse-orange truck, a languid-blue rubber ball, an indelible-purple and silver airplane. The sheath of bear. A witch’s brew. And yet, the world was too big and spacious, unfriendly, without him. He would soon stand before his chair, painted with cowboy hats and horses, and laugh and lift up a book and pretend to read. The world had been less and she hadn’t known it.

4) Somewhere a Lover. Green sheets. Her knees bent, upright, the tent lifting and falling. They played “Lost in the Forest” except that they weren’t lost. There were the usual outdoor sounds: scratching; squirreling; sniffing; shuddering; flickering; flying; hooting; cackling; crying out. Damp, weedy things went bump in the night. She was everywhere inside the house of their making. That was before.

Once she lingered, fiddled with her clasps, her buttons, one zipper. Her fingers knotted in her own hair. “Children?”

“Never.” He rubbed her bare neck with his teeth.

There were marks.

She swallowed. They healed.

At her apartment she held a fat bowl, all splayed white against medicinal blue, that she had made. It rested coldly on her stomach. His, hers, theirs.

That night she wandered around her apartment, tasting everything. Pillowcases, towels, tables, juice, what rested on the dark windows. Something skittered across her roof, something tapped at the door, windows rattled, a scurrying across a floor. Wanting to enter. She felt shadows rise and lumber towards her. Menacing. The outstretched grasp of what was not human. She could be inside a mouth, gone.

He wrote her at first. “The bed is infested with you.”

Then. “Is this normal?”

Finally. “When glass tumbles, even unseen, it breaks…Is this what you want?”

But, even before Echo, she had already turned to painting with its limbless portraits, sprawling landscapes, an expiring still life. She named each one, George, Wade, Steven. They chatted, filled in the noticeable gaps. She left her lover to his own devices. Although the swish of milk in her coffee reminded her of him. He would not wait. She knew that. She painted a scene from a forest. She painted her roof. She had met him in a coffee shop when she picked up the wrong coffee. There would be others. She thought that someday she might return.

5) Places of interest. “Help, help,” the boy had called, his arms as riotous as paintbrushes, cliffs peeking around him. She had imagined a bear looming up behind him.

But it had been a ploy.

Her friend had suggested another landscape, something unsettled and geophysical and weighted by sky. Past the city with its eternal distractions, obtrusive buildings, poisoned food and water. And there they were, two painters, friends, a weekday afternoon, footing it. He was tall and reedy and quick to the uptake. Pads and pencils were tucked under their arms like something that could grow with a little soil and water. It was warm and sweat gleamed, collecting at her breasts and neck, clouds muscled the sky. A soil-infused air greeted them. Step after careful step upwards they went. She hiccupped. Then she held her breath and it went away. They searched for the perfect spot. And then they saw him. The boy, all alone. Stones receding from him. And they went to save him.

From what?

From his life-to-be. But the older woman was sitting, not far off, arms wrapped around her legs, chewing on blades of grass. Green mouth. A costume. “Are you two married?”

“No.”

“It doesn’t matter. You both look nice.” The tattered pants let in dirt and air. The faded shirt whistled in the wind. Her hair was fringed with gray. A grandmotherly disguise. A fake concern.

Nice enough for what? “Is he all right?”

The woman profiled her head, a coin, a small bill. Her hair snaked in the breeze, spilling its ingredients. Gray strands spidered at her mouth and eyes. She turned away, answering nothing. The boy ran up to the couple, took her hand, his insect one inside of hers. The grass was bent and white flowers bloomed around them. Trees nodded their assent.

“Me?” He said in his tiny voice.

She kissed and told. “Yes, you,” she whispered to his smooth forehead.

“He likes you.” Bones surfaced in the woman’s face and a river of veins were apparent near her jaw. As if she had already died and her body was turning itself inside out. “I’m his grandmother. His mother left him with me and I can’t take care of him any longer.” She looked at them.

Her friend pulled at her shoulder, at the edge of the cliff was something fragile. His paper and pens complained, jumping from arm to arm. The ground was the color of beige silk that had been torn apart. Little plants shuffled away from both of their feet. She had wanted to capture the light, the browning earth with its dabs of red and white and green, the broken things that managed to grow from it. All that she taught her paper.

“Mama?” He was all big eyes.

She watched a leaf speak and then gently fall into the ravine. It was too suddenly gone. Her heart spoke loudly and her breath sputtered. Had the wind foretold this? Her paper was useless, still blank. She wanted to throw it over the edge. A body in motion, stayed in motion.

“Please take him.” And there was a quick streak of gray down an edgy cliff. No doors or hinges. No corridor back. The speck of something ragged washed down a drain, without any swirling. A small, distant sound. Then reverberation.

She had always wanted a child. Vaguely. Theoretically. “Yes,” she said to the remaining, upset air, to her heart. No one cried. Each male pulled at her sleeves. No one wanted to see the small disturbance, the landscape of nothing more than rocks. There was nothing left. A horizon full of sky. They turned away.

“Mama?” His cheeks limp, his mouth thin. Her new, little boy.

“Mama,” she repeated, his echo. The accumulation.

They began to go down. The mock family. No blood on their hands. No drawings. No past or future. His tiny fist was tucked into hers. For what could she tell the boy that he hadn’t already discovered?

***

Laurie Blauner is the author of two novels, a novella, and six books of poetry. Her web site is http://www.laurieblauner.com.

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