Ceci N’est Pas Un Garçon

What follows is a sequence of events and recountings that are admittedly hard for the rigid-minded to grasp. Before we begin, I offer you a puff of my incensed pipe. Fill yourself with perfumed tobacco and lift your being from its place, weighted in the known reality.  I know I speak with a nonchalance that will soon seem unwarranted, but a man in my downtrodden—and now drunken—position should not speak in any other way. I have now sold my soul to the night, not for naughty negotiations, but because I’ve unraveled my knot. 

In deep conversation with her mother, Mommy’s cheeks turned a blushing poppy-red while the old woman’s complexion kept its dewy glow. Mama spoke tensely, transferring her energy into the sizzling pan that agonized on the equally reddened burners below her. I watched her shuffle the stewing celery as if sorting through thoughts, directing one piece to the rim of the pan while pulling two others to center focus. I’d seen her perform this exercise before, but she approached her task tonight with a new determination, fixation. I, less bothered, couldn’t help but wrap myself around the delightful, oily wafts of celery-infused air. Amidst my sensory bliss, I briefly lost concern for Mommy’s dismay, but the burn of the now-spattering vegetable juice re-commanded my attention. Mommy, unaffected, continued to shuffle.

The splattering storm of oil seemed to enjoy Mama’s fury and rivaled her temper, jumping riotously over the stove’s brim and onto our Persian rug. As the oil shower ensued, Grandma dislodged herself from where she’d been sitting and kneeled down toward the victim. The rug was of an adorable size, which allowed the antique woman to tenderly scoop the patterned yarn into a cradle space between her arms and chest. I opened the already-cracked back door for her as she approached with the rug, pushing just hard enough for her slight frame to slip through. Mommy, oblivious to her mother’s movement, had by this time burned the wilted celery. An inedible meal was only too appropriate for the indelible circumstance that she stewed over.

I was glad Grandma had saved my woven friend. Soon he would receive the cleaning and attention he deserved. I’d had the most intimate conversation with Raj just two nights prior. We’d discussed Mommy’s most recent visit to the incensed, incantation grounds across the river and how poppy-red her cheeks had been that night too. She’d dressed in a most eccentric, costume-like ensemble that eve, wearing layers of red and purple, her hair, a lush cascade of pure black beauty immodestly peering out from under her fanciful hood. As she’d left the house, her wrist jangled the most musically disturbed set of metallic chords, second only to the harsh slam of the heavy door. It was in that moment that Raj had so kindly beckoned me toward his saffron-tinged fringe and invited me into conversation. He began to tell me a colorful tale, at which point I’d advanced from his fringe to the very center of his being and settled.

I think I’d have enjoyed his tale and the tickle of all of his little orange tails a great deal more than Grammy had enjoyed Mommy’s story of her first trip to the gypsy camp.

“Mom, you would not believe this woman and her utter shamelessness. Her chest is so large, it appears as though she’s offering it at all times. Venus certainly had her fun with her. Perhaps she had just discovered the effect of the curve and was overzealously carving away. Curves, bangles, hoops, the round tarp on which she kneels, gazing into her crystal foreseer. She was noticeably displeased at my arrival, which was to be expected, but I had not foreseen such an attack coming. First insulting my apparent sexual inabilities, but then speculating about my son! She’s convinced he’s destined for impotence as a byproduct of my being. I can’t believe Cyrus would associate with such an indiscreet whore. She called me dispensable—said I’d already been dispensed of. As if I weren’t aware that my husband had dismissed our marital vows and been gallivanting with gypsies. Oh, I was plenty aware. But her muttering, Mama. It absolutely spewed from her fiery tongue. I’m almost twitching at the thought of it now.”

Here, I must interject. Gallivanting might be an overly-resentful term. Gypsy camps are known pleasure spots. To indulge in love is to indulge in life! Oh dear…I sound exceedingly promiscuous. I blame the Pleasure Principle—it’s the driving force of ninety percent of male action. At any rate, she exaggerates. “Gallivanting” might be more appropriately replaced with “ever-so-graciously-socializing” for a more accurate read.

Mommy arrived home even more noisily than she’d left on that eve two nights ago, coming in, heading straight to Raj’s center and collapsing down with me. Her gypsy wear enveloped me in a most desirable way, soothing a stiffness that had resulted from my lying on the floor. The weighty fabrics were so charming that I pardoned her gold earrings for pressing into me and closed my eyes. A ping of wetness startled my senses, at which point I realized my mother’s eyes had begun puddling with tears. Lips quivering, she’d whispered my name and I hushed her gently.

There wasn’t really so tragic a scene. There couldn’t have been.

Perhaps you can understand now why I’d want my friend Raj, who endured this heart-wrenching moment, to receive the utmost care and affection. He didn’t shift under Mommy’s pining knees, nor did he leave the faintest imprint on her skin. He was most hospitable and yet his kindness had escaped her and she’d singed his threads with celery splatter. She’d mistreated her rich-hued robes the other night as well, tossing them across the kitchen floor and practically using them to mop up her tears. Apparently, she’d begun to make a habit of toiling things. Yet, Grammy had salvaged these fabrics too, again cradling them, taking them outside. Mommy’s temper was becoming increasingly vivid and I all the more pallid.

She was self-berating over the most trivial of errors. If she couldn’t crush the herbs into uniform flakes, or if her lace garments didn’t dry at the same speed as her cotton ones, her world—and the worlds of those around her—were in upheaval. Needless to say, the perfectionist persona pummeled her personal life.

Coming back inside now, Grandma reassumed her seated position on our kitchen bench. Following her, I positioned myself in her lap, sprawling out into all of her comforting crevices.  Her hands, previously resting in her lap, now landed on me, soothing a tenseness that I wasn’t quite aware that I’d had. I must’ve breathed a rather loud sigh of relief because both Grandma and Mommy shuttered noticeably.

So naïve he is. So innocent and unaware, thinking his light breath provokes such emotion.

“That wind is getting unwieldy, Mom. Would you shut the back door? It’s going to blow out my fire and then my celery. My celery! Oh, my celery. Mon Dieu! C’est détruit! That gypsy has cursed all existence, now and future. If I can’t stew in my own home, where shall I stew? I’m not a curvy nuisance or slave to my tarp. I live and I cook and I feel and I…”

See, she toils. She lives and she cooks and she feels…boy, does she feel!

And then she stopped. The tears welled up yet again as she looked down at me, this time startling the hot pan with her tears instead of my senses. The hissing of the water vaporizing became unbearable and I began to scream. I told her to stop crying, I begged her to. I called her horrible names and denounced her as my mother. I blamed her for being a neglectful mother, paying more attention to her stew than to her son. She wailed now, my offenses inaudible over her howling. Her guttural cries were reminiscent of a griever’s, but what a silly thing, to mourn her stew. She killed it anyway, too deep in thought.

I shouldn’t have spoken of her toiling so openly—he may have overheard. Her attentiveness served the household well, I admit. Only now that food preoccupies her instead of Father do her actions seem reprehensible.

Grandma stood up, leaving me and approaching her daughter. Standing a foot below in stature, she extended an arm, cupping the pulsing chin in her hand and rubbing her thumb softly under the unstill lip. Feeling sorry for my harsh words, I leapt to my mother’s side, wanting so badly to unspeak what I’d spoken. I tried to envelop her the way that she’d surrounded me that night when we’d lain on Raj’s surface, but she was unresponsive, still jerking and quaking with grief. I nestled against her and with that she practically fell to the floor, descending upon our terracotta tiles, wilted. Grandma lay down next to her daughter on the floor. They stayed there, huddled together, until Mommy had quieted, having fallen into a sleep of exhaustion.

Grandma lovingly smoothed her daughter’s now-modest-looking hair, tucking it behind her ears, whispering, “He will be okay, my love. He will be okay.”

Leaving Grammy to care for Mommy, I ran to the back door, desperate for Raj to tell me a tale.

“Raj, my friend, beckon me to your saffron-tinged fringe and tell me a tale,” I pleaded.

He was always trying to escape when we fought. I wish I hadn’t brought that rug to life. Objects are objects. Ceci n’est pas une pipe. C’est un tapis.

I peered out at him. Sick of the company of Mommy’s gaudy robes, he begged me to come outside. Looking back at the pile on the kitchen floor, I heard a voice. She was speaking my name, but wouldn’t call for me.

“Call for me, Mommy—I’m here!”

“Grandma, don’t shush her—I’m here!”

“Raj! Raj! I know you can hear me through these panes!”

He can’t, my boy.

Having been closed just minutes before, the door barricaded my exit. I figured I’d been so weakened by my mother’s scene that I simply lacked the physical capability to open it. Calling to Raj, he couldn’t hear me. I felt myself condensing, shrinking emotionally. It was the most peculiar sensation, the tingling that suddenly overwhelmed my spirit. I shied away from it, shrinking from the unthinkable.

“I exist, I fill space, I am space, I have space, I have place.” I repeated those words a dozen times, but at the thirteenth utterance, I stopped. At that moment, flabbergasted, I’d realized my gaseous state. Horrified, I withdrew from the door, which only resulted in the condensing of my molecules into one, dense rain cloud. And then, I poured, joining my mother and grandmother on the floor, flooding them with my apparently absent presence, attempting to rejoin their world.

Perhaps it is now clear why I have resigned to this dilapidated state. Such a brave son I had. And a braver wife. Yet neither she nor he could ground himself presently.

You know, I took up smoking only recently. Puffing these aromatic fumes deep into my lungs—it keeps them expanded. He keeps them expanded.