Hagiography (2)

How to deliver private pleasure

He missed his mother, wanting to be near her, wondering what she did those long hours at work, not yet grown enough to go without a hand on his shoulder, empty your pockets so I can wash your pants, so full of clouds.  A boy should not wander so far from home!  Not wanting to offend his mother, he did as he was told, knowing his pants disagreed, wanting to be tracked with dirt, full of clouds, what only he could know with his boy head, a listening chamber of silence, electrical disturbances, a squeak.  Not yet a young man, his head too round and big for his shoulders, arms and legs like a sapling’s, he was waiting, in suspension, dangling for his mother’s love.

His mother of course knew all this and continued to work far into the night, assembling auto parts (whirring fans that require a metal shroud), frying bread in a soldier’s steel helmet, keeping grown men satisfied in their love for transmission fluid, hydraulic systems with a weak governor, heavy load.  After the farmer sells his old broken down horse he puts his shoulder to the plow.  When her husband walked out the door for cigarettes and never came back, she was so mad she could lift the back of a truck with her bare hands, flip up her skirt and open for business.

Eventually the feeling left her and things settled down to business as usual.  Still young, she worked her way up from the doorway to a private room upstairs to a storefront on a canal, a nice location vacated by someone who disappeared with a month’s rent already paid.  There was resentment along the canal, rude talk in the alleys, on the stoop, who did she think she was?  Women were saying she was so unprofessional that she kissed her customers on the lips, even kissed the top of an old man’s head.  No kissing!  No nibbles!  Too much talking!  The girl who disappeared left instructions on the wall, discernible as one sprawling crack, a long hair on the pillow, a story as old as a painted scroll of leaping, cloven hooved animals, mist circling the heights of a craggy mountain.  Lessons of long nights taught her many things:  above all, she learned not to cover her throat as she spoke, a gesture protecting the channel between her head above and her body below, spoiling her advantage of terms and


    front / back        rough / smooth        like a very strict nurse         always subaltern


    up / down           hairy / smooth        with shoes on                      never nice


    wet / dry             hard / soft              with glasses on                    as if asleep / dead


    dark / light          like a baby             with hat on                         give / receive


    white / pink        like a horse             with pearls                         take / relinquish


    pink / brown       like a very strict       with / without teeth            favor / sacrifice


—and so on.

With practice she could operate like a toggle switch, running the circuit only when a coin was dropped.  When the curtains were drawn closed, she was occupied, lamplight seeping around the edges, a glowing field of darkness.  When the curtains were drawn apart, open for business, she sat in a salon chair, as if reclining in the arms of another, in a black lace merrywidow, legs crossed, hands idle.  Arranged neatly behind her were a bed, towel stand, wash basin.  She sat perfectly still, as if posing for a painter.  The eye of the painter was cold and clear, seeing only form and its shadow but his heart was struck by a slight movement in her throat, a swallowing motion without speech, an unguarded moment when he was privy to her effort, what lies behind the curtain.  Dumb with wonder, he could only daub at thin air, failing to capture her thoughts, refusing to record her deeds.

So the painter did not paint, the boy went without his mother, the mother continued to work, faring forward with a sense of economy—even as she spent virtue, spirit was not depleted.

And what about the mist?  (It appeared time and again, gathering near its assigned peak.)  The rest of the scene?  (It changed with the seasons, a floating world, beyond our grasp.)