Choice Words

We are at Boots, Etc., exit 149 when driving South in Georgia towards New Orleans. We watch as a man hammers hand-wrought silver tips onto Henry’s new red leather boots. The man uses shining little nails, he squints, he moves his hands as delicately as a pianist, as a mother braiding hair. As he works behind the counter, he tells the saleswoman about his divorce. She pulls on her long blond braid as she listens.  

Now what do I do about this, he asks, holding up his heavy forearm, where Victoria, the name of his now ex-wife, is tattooed in leaking cursive.

Sir, I want to tell you something nice: A cake, a Queen, a park in Germany, but We’ve really got to get going down that highway again, says Henry.  

We fall into a sort of trance, watching the red taillights in front of us and the white headlights on the opposite lane as we drive down the long straight road through Alabama.  

We stop in traffic for five hours on this long straight road because a fire has bloomed in the centre lane. A dark swamp buzzes on either side of the highway. Above us is a super blood moon, hazy red because the dispersed light from all the Earth’s sunrises and sunsets falls on the face of the moon at mid-eclipse, – the moon becomes the murky meeting place of day and night’s transition. It hangs above the stilled highway like a wet orange cloth on a line, sagging under the weight of its saturation.  

People get out of their cars and walk up and down the road, talking to other drivers through their windows, asking for a bottle of water or to listen to the radio, asking first names. We hang out of the window and look at the stars. We tell riddles to pass the time, and watch police cars pass.  

Drivers, I want to tell you something nice: The secret reds of the earth are showing themselves, but we again begin to move down the long, black snake-back of the road, and soon we are carrying luggage up to the porch in the lamplight.  

I sleep on the floor by a heater with three blue flames; it sings a hissing tune all night. This is about the time I am having dreams that I am riding in an elevator which, with every passing floor, shrinks, until I have to crawl out on my belly, seconds before I would be totally crushed. Strange room of grinding pulleys, strange room of transition, with every new horizon I come closer to losing my form.  

In the morning, in the sunlight, we repaint the kitchen chairs in the backyard with sky-blue paint. Henry has strung up porcelain masks and seashells in the fruit trees, planted cacti in ceramic pots.  

Henry’s friend, Louise, the Los Angeles witch, has just burned down a wall of her house with thirty-three candles from a blood-moon ritual. Her roommate got mad and moved out, and took all the silverware with her, so Louise can’t cook. Now Louise is sitting at the table, sculpting salt on the unpainted surface, wearing high heels and showing us her modelling photographs. 

Louise, I want to tell you something nice: I have a collection of sugar spoons to donate towards your empty kitchen drawers, but the chairs need another coat of paint, and you leave so quickly to tell fortunes online.  

In the evening, I sit in the kitchen while Henry washes bunches of white mulberry branches in the sink, eats kumquats, bitter skin and all. It’s growing dark. The lights won’t turn on. Henry goes to buy matches.  

I call the electric company; the woman hums on the phone while she waits for Henry’s customer number to register in her computer and bring up his red account. I like her humming. It’s nice, I tell her, and she begins to sing. We forget the computer, and the number. I imagine her there in her cubicle closing her eyes and singing to me, her headset cradled close to her cheek in the same way my sister cradles her child to her cheek. I sit there on the phone, silent, in the dark, and listen. 

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