Fever Dreams

She returned home from classes in the middle of the afternoon. Her new classes made her feel like she was drowning in reading assignments and the panic made it impossible to concentrate, so she stood in the middle of the bare wood floor with the sun streaming in and hitting her feet. Without thinking, she raised her arms while breathing in and exhaled as she bent toward the floor, and began to do yoga sun salutations.

When she felt that she couldn’t do any more, she sat down in a cross legged position, tucked her chin, lowered her shoulders and stretched through her ribs while rocking her hips back and forth on the floor to find the right balancing connection point. She was surprised to feel her groin pulsing with heat. The twinge of desire was a unexpected after long empty, echoing months without a trace of it. Now it was like a solicitor on the top step, knocking and knocking, and determined to continue until someone answered the call.

She deepened her breath and tried to return to the calm neutral place she’d dropped into earlier. As she followed her breaths, her mind drifted and her body followed her to sleep. In the dream, her puff of pubic hair became a thyme plant in the garden.

Her body was the garden, the musky sage plants were her sweat. A crow landed on her leg and scratched at her silver belly ring. Taking it into his beak, he tugged it gently before turning his attention to the thyme. He buried his beak in it and pulled against it with all his strength, as if he would take away a precious part of her, an amulet to ward off the darkness within him.

Patricia Bidar: Hansel, Solo

He’d forgotten his radio. Tonight, Ben the night watchman would settle for music at a remove. Its strains would drift from the Institute’s tiny painting studios, or the photo processing room, with its synthetic stink and fuzzy crimson light. Nina Hagen. Peter Gabriel in Deutche. Der Kommisar. 99 Lufbalons. German consonants colored the air they breathed at the Institute in those days.

Ben himself was of German extraction. His father a sportfishing boat captain who retired at forty and spent 16-hour days building a new home above East San Diego’s wild beige ravines. He’d told them of feral dogs he’d encountered in the early mornings. How he’d fought a pack off with a shovel. Ben’s mother had written to him about these things. It was easy to picture her at the kitchen table with her Bermuda shorts and varicose veins, her stack of books and deep tumbler of rosé.

When Ben and Cyn were growing up, she’d sometimes fallen asleep at the dinner table, hands entwined in her linen napkin. She’d been an anesthesiologist, before her legal troubles. She kept the lawsuit a secret from them back then. But they knew their father’s cruelty, as all children know. The house was steeped in his spite, although no one ever spoke of it.

The watchman shift covered Ben’s expenses. He slept in the truck parked at Land’s End, a few yards from the furtive couplings that took place in the twisting chaparral that rose from that section of Ocean Beach in those days. The waves’ crash rising into the frigid night. A whiff of men’s cologne. Sometimes a gay guy might glance in the truck’s window before disappearing on one of the narrow dirt paths that dropped into the brush. But nobody bothered him and Alphonse.

A few years back, a student had killed himself up in the print studio. This student was found by the film teacher in the pink context of dawn. In full drag and makeup, cheesy Mancini on a turntable set to repeat. Auto asphyxiation, they’d called it. The lore was that now you’d hear footsteps, chill winds. Rattling doorknobs. Back when they were rebuilding the tower, heavy objects kept falling to workman’s heads.

“Alphonse.” Ben’s Australian cattle dog alerted. He always stayed by Ben’s side as he headed toward the gallery halls, the theatre, and the bathrooms that flanked them. During the shift, he was to clock in at different sections of the campus. Otherwise, he guessed, it would be too easy to laze away his shift behind the desk, leaving the cement campus unwatched.

He drew the folded envelope from his coat pocket. His sister had never before written him a letter. “It’s gotten weird,” Cyn had scrawled in pencil. “Mom has some kind of tumor in her lungs. Dad drove Billy James to a ravine in East County and dumped him there to die.”

Their mother had gotten the cat after Ben and Cyn had left for school. Named him Billy James for an old suitor of hers from Minnetsota. One she had forsaken because he had a heart murmur. The idea was that Billy wasn’t expected to live a long life. He wouldn’t have been a good family man.

Their mom had telephoned Cyn in Boston, sobbing, the letter read. “Dad told mom he won’t be around sickness. He’s says the marriage is over. He gave her $30,000 in cash to get out.”

“She stays up at night, calculating,” the letter concluded. “Trying to figure out how long she can last.” Like a trapped queen in a German folktale. He wished Cyn were with him now. Together they could figure it out. Like a couple of medieval urchins in stained glass. Like Hansel and Gretel. But he and his sister hadn’t been in one another’s presence for nearly a year. It occurred to him he might never see her again, if she would write something this momentous in a letter, rather than calling.

It was time to punch in at the printmaking studio. The dog Alphonse always refused to enter the last clock-in site, the printmaking studio where the student had died. Instead, he’d trot off in the direction from which they had come, and meet Ben two minutes later at the studio’s exit. But Ben had never caught sight of a phantom or had his shoulder brushed or whirled at the sound of footsteps to face an empty hall.

Still, Ben always ran across the huge room, looking neither to the left or right, pausing an instant to punch the clock before Alphonse’s familiar low bulk greeted him at the exit door.

Why had Cyn not telephoned? He felt she was withholding her presence and the commitment of a present time conversation. Their mother had called her in Boston. Then had held the news to her, writing out, sealing, mailing the words that would cross the breadth of the nation in an envelope before Ben could receive them.

All these nights had passed, with Ben at work and his father crawling into bed at nine. His mother at the kitchen table, circling available apartments or job listings. Willing herself to spin a life to its conclusion with only a packet of cash and a blank horizon. And Cyn, privately living her life in Boston, so far from them all.

Auto asphyxiation. Choking the life out of oneself. Ben’s breath caught as he stood in the doorway of the print studio. The fluorescent lights flickered meagerly, then blasted on.

Normally, he ran. But tonight, he paused, willing himself to register a caress on his cheek, a rolling light across the floorboard. He made himself wait at the door. There was only the sound of his own breath. A moment later, a whimper from Alphonse on the other side of the far door.

Was that student who choked his life out turned on, pink and painted under the print studio’s hot light? Some element of exhilaration at his own display? Was he impassioned, praying someone would walk in and love him?

Or had he felt like the last person on the planet, perched atop a cement fortress over a graveyard, as in a German fable? A ghost story in the making?

**********

Bidar means awake. Patricia Bidar is a writer and California native looking forward to life’s third act.

Things you can trust

You can trust a birdbath to be what it says. It cannot fill itself, but it is willing. You can trust it to bring birds. Cat or no cat.

Pink flamingoes in the yard harbor no ill will or secret agenda. They have no pockets in which to hide a knife and they will not sneak up on you unaware.

Provided basic environmental conditions are favorable, an apple tree may be counted upon to grow and to bear fruit.

Regardless of individual qualities, dogs will have dog breath, smell bad when wet and frequently when dry. They will eat unspeakable things, of this we may be certain.

Before recent days, Bay Area dwellers knew that 3 or 4 days of heat would absolutely bring a cooling fog. Laughingly we called it god’s air-conditioning. Has god’s repair person been called?

At our house we know if a high pressure system is coming, because the wind makes our delicate wind chimes clatter and bang. In the heat, a slender breeze sashays through the yard and rings only 1 chime several times, while the others remain silent. I rely upon the purity of its one clear note.

Across the street

When Betty won’t walk, I find myself standing at the end of the driveway (with her as far in the opposite direction as her leash allows) staring across the street. Sometimes I’m begging the gods for mercy or raging silently against my fate that has brought Betty to me, but usually I am looking out at the block around me, checking out the neighborhood. I presume my neighbors are behind their half-closed curtains wondering what the hell I’m doing and what the dog’s problem is. I’d like answers to those questions, too.

Since I’ve been standing there, I’ve realized the house a couple doors down is home to a prostitute (upstairs) and a drug dealer (downstairs). It’s funny I didn’t really notice their activities before Betty, but now they’re hard to miss.

The creepy guy who works at the small hardware store down the street came out of a house next door one day. I pretended not to notice, which was made harder when my husband stage whispered, “Is that the drug dealer?” Umm, no. Wrong house.

We have new neighbors directly across: a husband and wife duo who both work in higher ed, as do we. They have an elderly greyhound, a gazelle next to our boxer. They have made the house bright and homey. It’s hard not to look at it, to peep into their warmly lit curtain-less windows to see them happily reading in their fine leather chairs.

Sometimes if the night is especially dark and quiet, and I am adequately charming, Betty will cross the street and so we are able to look back across at our house with its dark curtains, flickering TV, peeling paint over stucco and the dead laurel bush. The moon rises in the south over our garage, and I contemplate our little life in bas relief.

Patricia Bidar: The Drifters

At the square indoor pool where I have been doing physical therapy, the guy in charge bears a passing resemblance to the comic Dave Chapelle. His voice, however, is *exactly* like Chapelle’s. The same exaggeratedly blase delivery; but he is not trying to be funny. Al, his name is.

Al is not in charge of me. I work one on one with a physical therapist named Tanya. When I am already suited up and waiting on the bench beside the hot and fragrant pool, she rattles in with the beige contraption that appears to be a much larger than necessary laptop holder. I’d say it comes to her chest. She is unusually trim and fit, with mesmerizing muscled legs I cannot help but notice from my vantage point below her as I await her instructions.

Al is always there, because he is in charge of the pool and because he leads the aqua fitness classes of old women. This rehab facility is owned by Eden Medical Center, and I guess I’ve driven past a thousand times without ever seeing it. It is one of those worlds that appears in your life when you need it, contains a lively and ongoing culture and a part of you for a time, and then disappears again.

Al directs the ladies in that drone, sometimes starting a new series of reps with, “bicycle time,” or “Inner tube time.”  And it is the way that he says “time” that reminds me so much of Dave Chapelle.

Other than once, this exercise class is taking place as Tanya puts me through my paces. First, I warm up by walking six short laps. The pool is not really square. Obviously I have to do this part in the shallower end, which is mainly where the class is taking place. So sometimes I find myself walking alongside these ladies if they are doing the same. Other times I am actually weaving in and out of their ranks as I sidestep or backwards walk. They are genial and sometimes forget to listen to what Al is saying or to exercise at all, because they get sidetracked by their conversations. They are black and white ladies and everyone gets along. Al always has music going, and often the talk is of the tunes and whether or not they recognize/can hear the songs. Today the song list contained Dionne, the Platters, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and of course more. I know these songs even though many were hits long before I hit the scene.

Other exercises I do are bicycling, scissors, and “nordic track” in the deep end, one of those foam noodles holding me aloft. I like to zen out and the faint current sometimes carries me back near the shallow end, where the class members are.

There is a certain part of my hip that brought me here for pool therapy. Walking hurts quite a bit. I still feel a stabbing pain when I do certain of these exercises, but the stabbing is gentler now than when I started.

The changing room contains the ladies’ sandals, shampoos, tote bags. There is an ASPCA calendar whose August cover models are rats. There is a greeting card from someone named June that says she misses everyone. I usually arrive with my bathing suit on under my clothes, but today I had to change there because it took me forever to locate my bathing suit and I finally realized it was lying across the back seat of my car, where i left it to dry on a small white towel two days ago..

The door to the pool has a sign that announces that anyone who is currently experiencing diarrhea or has experienced diarrhea in the past 14 days should not enter the pool. Another sign, inside, announces in separate sparkling letters, “P.O.O.L.C.L.A.S.S.” I am not clear on whether this class is helping me, but I do not want to leave. I do not wash the chlorine off of me before heading to work, because I like the smell of it on my skin.

*********

Bidar means awake. Patricia Bidar is a writer and California native looking forward to life’s third act.

Walking

I thought walking was the one form of exercise that would always be available to me. It was perfect, in a way, both an activity and a mode of transport.

Walking: It takes you places!

For a while, it was enough and then I grew impatient. I longed to feel the wind in my hair, so I picked up the pace. Then I ran. I loved to run. I felt like a flesh eating predator, like I could kill with my teeth, like I could vanquish a pile of virgins.

Then I got home, bent to untie my shoes, and could not get up. I lay on the floor, waiting to be released from the white hot agony that grabbed me at the slightest move.

These days I walk with a limp and my pace has slowed, but there’s more than one way to walk, so I got a dog to force me into better habits. Goodbye, YMCA, I’ve got a new plan called the Betty Method. Whoever heard of a dog that didn’t like to walk? I found her.

If conditions are perfect (not too hot or cold, not too wet or dry, not too loud, some dogs but only certain ones, some people but only nice-good smelling-mostly-quiet ones, flat terrain is best, grid pattern with wide open sight lines are preferred, tall grass is better than sand, natural and less urban, quiet but not too quiet, etc.) she will walk, IF there are treats (really good ones like fresh cooked chicken breast, ground turkey or hamburger and especially with melted cheese, chicken hearts, Grandma’s kosher crackers, hot dogs—turkey or beef-to name a few.) Please rotate treats weekly.

Mostly I sit watching Betty sleep and writing.

It’s not going to happen today

It’s not going to happen, buddy. There’s no honey left in the pot or hardly a sniff of its sweetness. You gave it the best that you got.
It’s not going to happen, dearest. There’s not enough blue in the sky. The sun burned it brown, it crumbled to the ground, and left us bone dry.
What if something else were to matter? If you rambled away for a while. Perhaps then you’d know where to turn to discover what passes for style.
So it’s not going to happen today, pal. Did you really expect that it would? Chalk it up to the heat if you have to. Toss down the pen and call it good.