We Eat What We Have

From a long line of Twentieth-century road-trip movies, The Grapes of Wrath, whose poor whites flee the Dust Bowl in jalopies, and Easy Rider’s hippies speeding by on choppers make an obvious double feature. When you live on the fringes, they say, you eat what you have. You go where you need to go. Locals overhear your freewheeling vernacular. Armed with automobiles and axe handles, locals go on the offensive.

Empty Threat

Contemporary Nonfiction

Seen through a bright window, a husband and wife ready themselves to fly. She curls her hair in a mirror while speaking. He stands at her side knotting his tie and speaks. Their bags are stacked in their doorway. Their cab idles out front, its taillights shining red, its exhaust pipe puttering. Beyond the house, silhouetted conifers mark a jagged line rising and falling as if through the sheen of stars, while a speck of light, a satellite, crosses the sky on a northward trajectory and the man and the woman’s gazes widen and narrow before each, their own reflection.

A conversation that started as a lament over the ethics of air travel in a time of changing weather patterns has morphed into a debate over the tragedy at North Sentinel Island. Seems the tribespeople there, a culture reaching back 30,000 years, thrashed a western proselytizer as he came ashore. They hanged him in the tropical air as a warning sign to future trespassers. They shot him full of arrows. One wonders, Can we expect to go where we want without impunity? “Absolutely we can,” she says. “Absolutely not,” he counters. “Are you kidding me?”

Inside the bright terminal at the municipal airport, the recorded voice of an English speaker warns all passengers: “Any unattended bags will be removed by the authorities and destroyed.” She asks, “Do they really destroy the luggage? Or do they just say they will and then store them somewhere as a kind of object lesson?” “How should I know?” he says. “Do I look like a screener?” “When I was a little girl,” she says, “my parents never followed through with their punishments. If they swore a spanking, no one laid a finger on me. If it was restriction, I gained my freedom by being extra conciliatory. If it was a month without television, I smiled and played docile, and we all watched something together later that evening.” “I assume they detonate them,” he says. “Blow them to smithereens.” “It doesn’t pertain to us though, does it?” she says.

The husband and wife agree that not only are they not terrorists, but they are not even lawbreakers. Their vigilance comes naturally to them. Watchers to their core, they are the Eyes of the Western World.

How ironic that, such as we are, we know no lasting disgruntlement.

Catch

Two men stand in a passage with a ball between them. One wants to play catch. The other thinks the object is to throw the ball hard at the places his opponent can’t cover, and in this way get the ball past him. Imagine the frustration of the man who means to play catch.

The Collaborators

Dinner Scene

‘There’s a lot to work out here,’ the dad wrote in his Yelp review, ‘unless you like everything well done extremely pricey.’ Though the crudo and baby gems had been awesome starters, his boy’s Monster Burger, avowedly medium, reminded everyone of charcoal. Despite his wife’s nice crispy skin, the fish everyone agreed was inedible. To top it all off, not only did the place dish up bland lentils, but their butts were cold on steel ice chairs and, on what passes here for a winter’s night, there were no space heaters. Looking on the bright side, his muscles were passable on the half shell and it’s always great to dip assorted burnt meats into the tangy sauce of someone else’s cooking. This came at the end of the meal, after the fam had picked through what it could stomach. Only then did the waitress ask, “Did we leave room for dessert?” After a long pause, the dad pointed to a fig panna cotta too dense for chewing. How generous he’d felt giving the experience two stars on the car ride home.

The response was swift. To start, wrote the restaurant owner, ‘We’re probably not the place for you, but that you were visibly upset when you arrived, ranting about icy cold seats on the hottest day in memory. Honestly,’ it went on, ‘we were all concerned about you. Your condition seemed more mental than physical. We worry that you are not a stable parent.’ The rest was history, with its winners and its losers. On behalf of my entire crew, he wanted to congratulate the dad on this attempt at constructive criticism. Not an easy thing to do. ‘We should all be so helpful in these contentious times, while not fighting too hard for what we believe in.’

Concerning the restaurant owner’s response, the husband and wife must agree to disagree. For him, the customer was always right. The restaurant owner must act like his own best waitperson. The dad downgraded it to a one-star experience. Evocative of needy parents and hardened capitalists, obsequiousness as a rule bugged the mom. A duel would have amused her more. To shoot and be shot in the eyes of your child. But seriously folks, she would have preferred the men confront each other face-to-face instead of writing about it on the Internet. You can never take it down. You must check it dozens of times a day to see if you’ve gained any admirers. She must watch her husband play out the dinner scene again and again, making an archenemy of a man in a chef’s hat who is his equal in pride and manner. It would never be over with.

Sentences Written at Saint Columba’s Church

I

Praying he once read is a pioneering form of picketing, a revolutionary thing to do, like the walkout, the sit-in, or leaving your weight dead in the hands of a kettling army.

II

Out back of a chapel, and in with the fields, forest, the living hedges, a blouse lay in a wad. Reaching for it, he hears the sea. The chill air and the arc of the sky give the color blue to the smell of fennel.

III

The blue blouse is a boy’s blouse from a bygone era whose cheery bugs live in its folds. Whose lifespans we may measure in hours, minutes, and seconds.

IV

A breeze catches in the cypresses. A blouse caught in a sea of nettles. Pick it free. Flap it open. Find it filled with feline beetles upwelling in the thousands.

V

Like a flipbook animating a trotting mare or a sprinter in an Olympiad, this benevolent swarm of insects renders his silhouette as a flickering Vitruvian Man.

VI

Seen from afar through an ocular window, his silhouette shows not his taking communion but his talking it over with himself: “It’s too late to eat something,” he says. He could be okay with the ritual of it, though, once he got it into his system.

VII

Praying, he reads, is a pioneering form of picketing. So think of something you do everyday and swap it out for protest. He prays in the morning for the courage to wave a sign in the face of captains of industry late in the afternoon.

VIII

Ladybugs pelt like kisses and like the touch of a kiss they dissipate. The climate is changing.