Elba and Her Husband

There once was a man from Toulouse, who kept his wife in a big blue caboose, from which she couldn’t get loose. Skin opaque, she could seldom awake, in the depths of her big blue caboose.

1996

Husband:

I locked Elba in our house, and walked down Madison for some lunch.

At that point I was really angry. I am now, as well, but then I still had the tears drying on my face and my heart was pounding hard. Rubbing my eyes, I thought about the night before; about what happened while I was asleep. It was my recurring dream:

—You walk like they walk. You do the dance. Their jig dance. Their jig dance. Then they shuffle, and you switch to the shuffle. But no, that’s not it. That’s… not… the way… to do it… now, they say. To your face; the words swarming your nose, pushing right up your nostrils. It’s the tango, now. The tango, they tell you, as a final emphasized cluster of spittle stings your brow from the over pronounced words. So you tango, though you don’t see the telling smiles now inhabiting their faces. They begin to laugh—

I can not get rid of this feeling that my wife and our neighbor, Ms Hellas, are more than friends. Ms Hellas comes over every other day or so, bearing drinks and food. She and my wife sit in our living room, talking and laughing as if they are close friends or sisters. But their lingering looks speak of more. Something behind their eyes, like hands reaching out, feeling and discovering, yearning. So today I threw her out, and then I locked the doors on Elba.

At the Hot Kettle on Madison, I always sit near the back, by the swinging kitchen doors, and watch this young couple. They sit up front by the window. It’s the third table over from the left, just over from the potted palms. That’s the best spot in the place. They talk openly and often become spirited. So I watch them. I listen. I enjoy their time together.

“Now don’t you think that was the whole point of the scene?” says the young man. “I mean really, underneath its gloss it was clearly making that stupid character look like a goon, not promoting his attitudes.”

“You, let me spell it out, are W-R-O-N-G,” the young woman says to the young man. She writes the letters into the air with her index finger.

“I see your point,” he returns.

“Good, you’re sharp.”

“Only in comparison.”

Every day, people must eat. I do anyway. But I don’t like to sit up there in front. I choose to be near the kitchen doors. All the movement of the waitstaff going in and out, doors swinging, in and out, people hurrying in and out. When glasses or plates get broken they do it back here by the kitchen doors. The rest of the waitstaff rushes to help, bending low to reverse the fall of pieces. They bend, I watch.

Up front, the young couple is served. I’ve noticed that the young man gets a new menu item each time. Whereas the young woman always orders the personal cheese and olive pizza, and she usually ends up taking half with her, covered in aluminum foil.

I’m always here when they leave because I like to sit and really take time with the food. People take too little time. I relish it.

My young couple has begun to speak more quietly than they normally do, but they’re just as animated. “Sometimes do you feel… strange?” he asks.

“Strange? What do you mean?” she replies.

“Well, when I walk around lately I’ve noticed that others look at me. They stare. Gray sooty faces surrounded by dark hoods, the eyes of passersby are on me,” he says.

“You feel eyeballed then?” she asks.

“Yes, like that, eyeballed,” he returns.

“You saw each one with their eyes on you?” she asks. “Each one to pass, you saw them look?”

“Yes, I saw them starring!” His hands come off the table, shaking.

“If you saw each one of them looking at you,” she says, “doesn’t that mean you were looking at each one of them?”

Elba:

Freedom was missing for Elba. Its absence, easily recognizable—no change in view, no quick trips to the coffee drive-thru, and little news. The familiar smell of fresh air was a fading memory. Running in the park, likewise, was no longer an option.

Elba felt twitchy. Panic, she could plainly tell, would take hold. Although she did have the sun; it shone now half heartily through a row of dying cactuses on the small window ledge above the kitchen sink. Its muted rays barely affected the highlights in her long hair.

Another drink. The moisture from her glass dappled the polished tabletop. She used to ride horses; she used to be strong. Her husband was gone. Sweating and screaming, his billowy white face, like some frosted pastry in the market, lacquered with his regret and reddened with his anger, held only slight purchase on her heart.

He had shaken his finger at her so vehemently before he left that she had hoped it would fly off and plunge into Ms Hellas’s punch bowl.

He could have joined them. His company had been welcomed. No harm, no worries, only the fallacious thoughts of his wife’s tryst had made him blind to reason. Now he’s away with their doors locked from the outside and the windows held fast with nails.

If only she had a hammer. He took that with him too. Just like a man, she quipped, jealous in a pinch and enraged in an instant. His personality always a step ahead of his mind. His smaller body parts making decisions for the whole, like a calculator, or a computer, or one of those other machines where the outcome depends upon the tiniest of springs or the slightest of connections. Zeros and ones, it’s all ones and zeros for a man.

Husband:

I see they’ve forgotten the mushrooms, even though I said to put them in. Plain. I’m reluctant to call them back over, because that would interrupt their metered rushing. So this time I will go without mushrooms in my pasta sauce.

My young couple, sitting up front, has gone and I’m forced to look at the other tables. None of them interest me. The young woman had eaten a little more than half of her pizza and I thought she’d leave the rest, but the young man wrapped it up for her and they walked out holding hands.

I had caught a glimpse of the sunlight on her long hair. Will the young man remember this moment? Appreciate it?

I’ve seen similar highlights before, distracting. My wife’s hair does that when she’s washing out the wine glasses near the kitchen window. But when Elba’s in the shade, or anywhere at night, her hair color is very flat and single-hued. It is boring to me most of the time, except when the sunlight hits it—highlights.

I locked her in. Out of anger. I think it’s been several days. Though, it could’ve been more. I’m not sure. I’ve not been thinking in straight time. Not in increments of it anyway. I’ve just been thinking in visual space.

I watch people. I see families in the park, and I remember our staged yesterdays. It’s like I’ve been strolling in a museum and all I know is that occasionally I’m hungry. When I’ve eaten, I’m tired. But I don’t sleep. The slightly artificial museum lighting won’t let me.

In between these laminated history lessons, I see my vibrant young couple sitting together at the good table. They talk while eating, as if their time with each other is so important and good that it doesn’t matter if one thing goes over the top of another. They’re still masters of the art of blending laughter and kisses and fighting with a kind of tell-all silence while eating and drinking.

Every day you know my young couple is living this banquet of life, and I’m just watching. I’m happy, I guess. My basic needs, satisfied. But I keep it all separated.

Shouldn’t life be a tangle of experiences, not a chain of events? A swirl of happenings. And I have my wife confined at home. And I can’t remember why. I see the painful, pinprick lowlights, and I cannot remember the banquet highlights that help us continue.

Elba:

She knows the importance of a close relationship. Some of her older clothes, like the worn-thin cords and the leather boots, are scored with the knowledge. A historic white v-neck t-shirt, worn under a sweater, insulates her core with memories of love.

She can hear laughter in the language of her black-and-white postcards and in the loose leaf albums of family pictures. Clinging to these objects internally, and with a freshly filled wine glass, she decides to try calling out again:

—Louis, this is Elba. Yes. That’s right. I’m here at home. Yes, inside the house. Listen, Louis, I want you to tell me if there’s snow on the Peak. Yeah, that’s right, snow. How? Go outside and look for me. Louis? Louis, why do you think I phoned you? You’re right there with a perfect view of the mountains. You can step out that front door and look. So, look. At the top. At the peak, and tell me if it’s white. Okay? Louis, don’t hang up…. Damn!

Husband:

If only I could remember why I locked her in. I could get mad again and storm back to her. I could demand answers. I could tell her she hurt me.

But I’ve found my way into a narrow, drab hole of a pub and that will have to do. I will sit for awhile in the back. I will see a young couple come in and sit up front. I will watch them closely, and listen to their talk. I will stew in my confinement, as Elba stews in her’s.


K. Shawn Edgar | PuppyCat | Linked | Dairy Queen Poet

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