Friday, August 10, 2012

Creative Writing Special: Perpetual Laughter

Sasha Martin
Copyright 2012

Old jazz music is playing. The kind that brings you back to a time you didn’t even experience, and infatuates you there. Louis’ hoarse I know that music leads the way to romance, is followed by Ella’s so if I hold you in my arms I won't dance. And, you imagine you’re in New York, in a tightly cornered underground clubroom, the small neighboring tables about you just as tipsy as the people crouching around them, all blurred by Lucky Strike smoke. Female fatales wear low-back satin and silver-leafed broaches, keeping tendrils from pale faces and rusted lips. These fastened curls of hair collect, like burning pine leaves, on the back of the neck. The men’s gazes follow these women like shadows, hats placed on the edge of their laps and wing-toed shoes tapping faster than the beat. All the torsos in this small nightclub crowd sway to but this feeling isn't purely mental, for heaven rest us, I’m not asbestos. Louis and Ella grin with eyes closed from the stage: pure rapture. Sweat simmers on Louis’ temple, almost as brilliant as the polish of his trumpet, the gleam of the chandeliers overhead, the fleeting glint of the cocktail glass by the tips of your fingers. Ella dips a heavy, long-stemmed microphone, moving it back and forth with the swinging of her hips. Her head is tilted towards her left shoulder, humoring gravity’s pull. Her left eyebrow is drawn upward by notes climbing up the rungs of the scale. And the two are dancing as though the night were perpetual. The old jazz music is still playing now: it seeps into the walls, into the glass, into the very rhythm of our thoughts.
“Do you want a refill, miss?” With these words, the smoke clears and New York melts down into my San Francisco. I’m sitting in the Two Barrel Coffee café in the Mission, and I let the real world buzz back in. The tables are no longer small with delicate legs, but thick and built with sturdy oak—earthquake proof. Louis and Ella curl back inside the black stereo. The broaches and hats crumble. And, I’m sitting in a crumpled sweatshirt with a coffee stain, no low-back satin to be seen: me and my laptop.
“Here’s your coffee,” the waiter says, half-smiling as though apologizing for interrupting my thoughts. I take the cup and flinch at its heat, but I smile back anyway, and—WAM: what the FUCK; hot coffee is burning my hand, staining my sleeve; I’m so sorry!—; hot coffee; Ow—; I’m sorry, here’s a towel—; Ow, god damn it—. The scene comes into focus and I see his cane. A smooth white cane, with a red band about the bottom and—“Oh.”
“You’re glaring at me right now, aren’t you. Let me buy you another coffee,” he says.
I can still feel the burn pulsing in my skin. I will still have a burn mark there a year from now; ten years from now it will hardly be visible any longer.
“Um… ,” I say.
“Just one coffee. And, here’s a napkin,” his hand brushes my cheek, “no more tears.”
I was crying? I was crying—small tears.
“I don’t know why I’m crying,” I say.
“It hurts, that’s why. You can feel the burn and you can cry. But, let me buy you another coffee,” he says this to me, but it means something else—“And,” he whispers close to my ear, “there’s no need to pull out the chair for me. I can manage on my own just fine.” He moves his hand on the edge of the chair beside me, feeling his way into its lap.
Our icebreaker was fire on my skin; there is no small talk to pad the conversation or the moment. Louis and Ella are exchanging song in the background still, but their world is far faded from my thoughts—a Polaroid left in the sun.
“How did you know I was crying?”
He holds the cup in front of me for a while, waiting for me to grab it; vulnerable is the first word that comes to my mind. My thank-you-smile invisible, I take the coffee from him, half-expecting it to spill on me once more.
He smiles as though I’d made a funny joke just for him. “Just because I can’t see, doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on about me. When one sense goes away, the others intensify.”
“You just bumped into and spilled coffee all over me. Clearly not all your senses are heightened.” I had forgotten that certain forms of sarcasm should really be monitored. Fuck. That was mean.
He smiles even wider, “I like your honesty. What’s your name?”
The sun is glinting through the large café window, bouncing from his cane back into my eyes, making them water all over again. “Uh…” the light is distracting, a blinding force encircling my right lens relentlessly as though someone were positioning a mirror to purposely stilt my vision. “I’m Cecily. You are…?”
“Cecily... you know Cecily means ‘blind of self-beauty’? Nice to meet you Cecily,” he extends his hand, waiting patiently for me to return his gesture. When I do, he tells me, “I’m Maitho. You know what that means? No? ‘Eyes to see with.’”
“Where are you from?” He has an accent I couldn’t place.
“Guess.” His eyebrows arch in challenge.
“I couldn’t possibly. Just tell me.”
            “Of course you can tell. You have vision to help you there.” Each of his words is amplified with the up-lifted note a smile brings.
            “Fine.” I stare at him, growing determination scrunching my face—he can’t see this of course. I feel comfortable, scratching at the dry skin on my chin—
“You just scratched your chin,” he says.
“What?” I say. “How did you know?” I say.
“Anyway, Cecily, humor me—where do you think I’m from?” Again with the smile that means a hell of a lot more than: I’m happy.
“Greece?” His skin is darker, bronzed evenly and naturally. His dark hair frames high cheekbones, leading towards a downward sloping arrow nose. His skin is rough as though sanded unevenly by sea-salt-wind. Thick eyebrows, never without animation so far, announce light green eyes that burrow into you and study the shape of your heart, your bones. And, he looks Greek. If he looks Greek, he must be Greek.
“I’m not Greek. Close your eyes,” he says.
“Why should I do that?”
“Because you trust me,” he says.
            “Seriously? We just met,” I say, visibly annoyed, audibly annoyed.
“Close your eyes Cecily,” he says.
This convincing goes on for a while, and then he says, “Good, keep them closed. Listen to my voice. Where am I from Cecily?”
The pause after this is thick in the air, but I don’t notice because my mind is whirring, hearing—soaking in.
“You,” my lips curl, eyes still closed, “are from … South Africa.”
After a generous nod of his Greek-looking head and our mutually surprised silence, we continue to talk, weaving a friendly banter that slowly forms into a steady flow of appreciation. My presence is no longer alien to him. His green eyes are far from strange to me now.
“Come with me,” he says.
“What? Where?” I say.
“You’ll see,” he says.
“But, I have to go home. I have work,” I say.
“Tomorrow,” he says.
“I can’t.”

It is “tomorrow” and we walk along Lover’s Lane, eucalyptus trees scattered thick around the path. I can smell the musty scent of the trees, earthy and inexplicably distinct. Dimming street lamps create pockets of light, and I wonder what Maitho can distinguish visually. Can he see the blackness of dark and the vague brightness of lights?
I know he can feel my hand because he’s holding it. He told me, mischievous smile unrelenting, “Cecily, I will fall. And, honestly, you’re too fragile to catch me—too delicate. This path has rocks—it’s uneven. Hold my hand? Steady me.” I can’t tell if he is serious or not.
“It’s raining,” I say, pulling his jacket up to his neck so that the raindrops, falling from the long eucalyptus leaves, don’t continue to wet his back.
“Even blind people know when it’s raining, Cecily,” he says, squeezing my hand, “I can feel this as I can feel the rain.”
“Even people who can see state the obvious, Maitho.” I like to think he can hear my smile.
A saxophonist is playing from a playground nearby—a Benny Goodman song that I can never recall the name of. He is sitting on a swing, alone: back and forth, he goes, back and forth. The notes each linger in the air with the rain, shivering. My spine cannot help but vibrate, touched by the passion of this man: willing to play, even if no one listens. Maitho nods his head to the music as we walk. And, when we come across a puddle, he crouches beside it, slapping the water surface with one hand; his personal drum.  
There is a certain look of contentedness that is rare to see on a person’s face. You have to know someone quite well to see it because it’s the kind of contentedness that you can only feel amongst close friends, family—the people you love. The face is relaxed, the lips only slightly curved upward, the eyes languidly half-closed, the eyebrows completely smooth, and the jaw unclenched, letting the chin ease and making the lips part ever so slightly. I have found this expression to be rare, but I look at Maitho and I see it: pure contentedness. He is guiding me down the path, rare smile unfading, hand pointing his simple, white cane at rocks and trees blindly.
“Cecily?” His thick eyebrows crinkle and his lips open and close, and open and close once more as though he were mute too.
“Go on a walk with me tomorrow?” he says.
“I can’t. I told my parents I would go home for the day,” I say.
“The day after that?”
“I can’t,” I say.
It’s the “day after that”, and we are walking in the sand at Crissy Field. Small children are building an oddly shaped sand castle, discovering that their princess would like a seashell tower as well as a turtle-grass carpet. The children’s fingers are half the size of mine, and they bend about the sand, squeezing tight for fear of losing a grain. Mothers bask in the remnants of the San Francisco sun, crossing and uncrossing their legs, counting the freckles on their wrists and elbows. Two years from now, I will find myself wishing that Maitho could count my freckles, dusted delicately atop my nose, or see the redness of my lips—I think he would like looking at me. I think he would enjoy watching my eyes dart about, or a blush spill into my cheeks—I’m not bad to look at.
Dogs race into the ocean, tongues wildly kissing the waves and tails slapping at the wind. And all the while, Maitho and I polish the sand with our bare feet, scattering broken shells in our wake. He likes the feel of the gritted surface of a conch; he likes the feel of the smooth inside of a clam.  
I’ve never said this before, but, “Come home with me?”
His smile pulls away, his eyes widening and palm growing moist against mine.
“What for?”
“You know what,” I say.
“No,” he says, “I don’t.”
“I want to show you my place,” I say, but really mean something else.
“I can’t see,” he says, losing grip of my hand, and clutching closer to his cane.
“I can,” I say.
“Well, I can’t tonight,” he says.
“Tomorrow night?”
“I can’t,” he says.

It’s been a month, but it feels like it’s been years, and we lie in bed together. We have been listening to Louis and Ella all night long, the four of us drifting back into the 40’s. Maitho and I are in the smoky, underground clubroom. He is not blind, looking at me with his green eyes, tipping his corduroy hat. My long hair is twirled into the creases of a broach, held fast, and shinning slightly under the solo light that is working hard to illuminate the room. I am wearing a black, satin dress—the kind you can feel just by looking at it. And, since he’s not blind, he looks at me and takes it all in: my pale face, full rusty lips, hazel eyes surrounded in coats of coal. I pull up my gloves and let my diamond earrings dance. Louis winks at me, but Ella is too busy to look—her eyes are closed and she is making love to the music. Maitho is now barely visible, a sheath of my Marlboro smoke barring my view of him. His wool suit is dull in the light too. Even so, the definition of him is not lost to me. He fills in the jacket nicely, leaving much room for the imagination. If I squint and stare with deep concentration, I think I can trace his body with my eyes. And—
“That was amazing,” Maitho says to me, turning over in bed and covering my body with the black, satin sheets. “Everything you do is so natural… so perfect.”
We had been lying on his carpet by the radiator, his white cane left aside by the front door. I had kissed him there, and oh, how we had both felt it.
I had thought the ultimate experience was to have someone love you who considered you to be perfect—the supreme beauty. I was wrong. When I was on top of him in that moment, earlier tonight, I closed my eyes and shed any doubts about my body, letting myself move without any reservations at all. In that moment, I had no white tiger-stretch-marks imprinted on my thigh; my face was not red and sweaty from the exertion; I had no dark pink razor bumps; my hair was not tangled a top my head like a turban gone wrong; and, my abs? They were perfect in that moment. I discovered with Maitho that, in truth, the greatest experience is to lose yourself in someone else, no fear of bodily insecurities, no wondering if imperfections will be revealed the less clothing you have to cover yourself with. I lost myself in Maitho.
He could not see me, but he felt me. He explored my neck through stumbling kisses, examining my collarbone, smoothing my breasts. He kissed my forehead too, smiling there a while. His hands gently gripped my stomach, my hips, my thighs, only to tighten the grip and pull me closer. He could see me through his touches. A compilation of Cecily through touch, he called it.
My long hair, kept safe between his fingertips, was like the silk of the sheets, he had said. My skin, beneath his body, was soft as cotton, he had said. And, when he orgasmed, he saw God, he had said. I don’t believe in God, but I felt as though I’d seen Him too.

It’s been six months, and he’s leaving my apartment to go to work.
“One more thing before you go,” I say.
            His eyes are looking in my direction— intent, though blind; his index is tip tap tapping the railing—waiting; his jaw moves to the kneading of his teeth—impatient; his feet are firmly placed on the ground—umph.
            I love you, I want to say.
            “I love y—thatgreenshirtonyou,” the words pile together unevenly, awkwardly from my lips.
But, he smiles at me as he always does. He has one of those smiles that make you feel as though you’re the only woman in all of San Francisco worth looking at. It always struck me as odd that he is the only man who really looks at me. I tell you that he can see me
I love you! I whisper to the drying plaster on the wall, by now a fresco of my confessions. I don’t think he hears me. He and his smile and his simple white cane leave, and all I can sense of him is his smell: ground coffee beans and eucalyptus leaves. 
            I first realized I was in love with him when he fell asleep beside me that night six months ago. He likes to be Big Spoon in his sleep, forming me to him and gluing me there with sweat. And, that night, after making love, I peered at him sleepily from below the black silk sheets. I remember that his face had been relaxed in a child-like manner, cheeks puffing outward slightly, pillow imprint on the forehead and lips open at mismatched slants. I remember already missing his light green eyes. His face was two inches or so away from mine, and I could see the outline of his eyes moving to the erratic rhythm of a dream. His eyelashes fluttered slightly, I remember, some of them singed and slightly askew. In his sleep he smiled and spoke an unintelligible word. He serenaded my ear with the scales of his snoring, starting with high staccato notes and following with a crescendo into uncontained pounding—the beat of Beethoven’s drums. Inexplicably, in this very moment, I knew I loved him. There were no fireworks, no birds singing. My stomach did not house butterflies. I simply lay there staring at him, feeling a warmth surge through my muscles, my sinews, my very thoughts: I knew I was in love with Maitho.
He has been at work for four hours. I don’t go to work today, a stowaway in my own kitchen. Letting my hips dance with Louis and Ella, I bring chicken stock to a boil. The broth is barely moving, small bubbles taking their first steps and curiously stumbling to the surface. I look through my watery eyes, barely seeing the pan to which I just added cut onions, slices of brown mushroom and grape seed oil. As I empty the bag of rice into this pan, I feel every grain being released from the bag—hourglass sand. And, each song of Louis and Ella bends my heartbeat into a different dance.
A hotdog vendor shouting from the street below brings me out of my 1940’s trance. With the vendor’s voice comes the other street ruckus. I hear the lyrics from a car driving by outside,
“When you love somebody and bite your tongue, all you get is a mouth full of blood…”
And, I realize that I’m choking on this blood day and night, gurgling in hope of letting the words free… swish, I … swish, swish, love … swish, swish, swish, y—.
The doorbell rings.
This is the moment of pure chaos. I slam down the lids atop the rice and broth, sliding into my bedroom only two doors down; mirror check: more mascara, a little more eyeliner and why does it matterring ring; I wrestle my coffee-stained sweat pants to the ground and tear my shirt away; the new, silk dress slips up my legs, up my thighs, up my hips, up my heaving core, up my breasts and—ring ring; Shit, coming!; ring, ring, ring, ring!
“Maitho! How was work? I’m making risotto!”
He kisses me; a mile long kiss that runs through my mouth like the water of the Napa River. He bends into me—should I say it now? Is this the appropriate time for a quick, soft I love you? What would he say in return? All I can think about is Love in the Time of Cholera and Marquez’s metaphor for unrequited love: “the scent of bitter almonds.” It’s like having a bad song stuck fast in the head. But, I smell no bitter almonds, just the risotto cooking. And, I think he loves me… He sees me. As a precaution, how could I say it so that he doesn’t feel obliged to say it back? I could—
His mouth opens, “Cecily, I love you.”
What?” I say.
“Um…” he says.
“What did you just say to me?” I say.
“Um…” He says. And, he is blushing—I have never seen him blush. It is an odd blush, one that seeps into his sideburns, into his chin. I have blushed countless times with Maitho, and he knows because he can feel my cheek growing hot beneath his palm.
My mouth is still hanging open: a door with a broken hinge,
“Did you just say you love m—I love you too!” I shout—awkwardly loud. But, nothing is really awkward with Maitho, so he holds me. He seals me in the moment.
“Cecily,” he says, his eyes leaping into mine, as though he’s imagining what it would look like to see my face, my body, and he continues, his lips shaking, “I want you to know … I am so thankful that I burned you with that coffee.”

It’s been half an hour. We are eating risotto now: rich, creamy and warm. The kitchen kettle is letting off steam on the stove. My playlist has faded into Louis and Ella’s Dream a Little, Dream of Me, and the track is skipping. The hotdog vendor is yelling again too. Some rap song about “girl look at this body—I work out!” ricochets off the alley beside my apartment, back through the open window and into the room. All of this noise, all of these distractions, and I find: nothing, not even the vendor’s sharp cries, can pry us from this blind delirium.
In this blind delirium we sit in the center of the smoke, staring at Ella’s large lips and Louis’ blissful smile. I lean into Maitho’s wool jacket. And, he is not blind, so he tells me he likes my hazel eyes and rust-red lips. And, our knees brush together. And, all I can hear from the two of us is perpetual laughter.

Women in the World and Relationships Section, Sasha Martin:         
   I made my own major, concerning emotions explored through literature, art, cognitive science and psychology, and am minoring in creative writing at UC Berkeley. My passions are writing and the arts in general. I created Unleashed for the empowerment and enlightenment of women everywhere. I am the editor, designer and a contributing writer, and happen to be extremely proud of the staff Unleashed has developed. I truly hope this magazine speaks to each and every woman.    

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