Patricia Bidar: A Disappearance

In 1980, I lived in that room with the early prototypes of video disks decorating the walls and a neat packet of mocha java coffee beans from Cost Plus. Each night, those old radio shows on KGO in the dark.

I return to the dimwit hopefulness of that sweater I’d bought with my first credit card, for the cold north. Wore it on the train even thought it was 80 degrees when I left Union Station. I slept on the couch in my brother’s one room apartment in that grand Victorian on Oak Street and Clayton. Its outside painted white. Ivory. Tan. Metallic gold. No heat. No air.

Like Gatsby in his pink suit I want to go back. Unlike him, I don’t want to erase all that has happened; why would I?

If there was a way, would I say, I changed my mind, you brute? And would I say it to each and every brute until I was back on that couch listening to the Jack Benny show? Back further to my parents’ home and my history of invisibility? No truth I can speak will erase it.

I photographed today that building on Oak. The place had seen better days. I crossed the narrow street to the Panhandle to photograph it some more. I was let down, a little. Zero frisson. A block away, I had to laugh. The photos I had taken were of the wrong address. That first place I started out with my sewing machine and the $1,200 I had saved was a block away and even shabbier than the first.

35 years ago, I was supposed to meet my brother there. I had no key. He was late. As the minutes passed, I became more and more worried, then plunged into a cold panic. He’d been harmed, I was certain. He was inside the apartment, dead. Swinging from a rope.

Today, I walked in the Panhandle with the same brother. Our bodies have softened in the chummy carelessness of long marriages. Our clothes are soft and pale.

I want a day off. I want a new job and the clothes that go with it. I want my children to be grown, but I want them to need me. I want to be warmer, I want to be colder. I want to go to bed wearing socks but kick them off the instant my feet are warm.

Like Gatsby, I want too much. And everything that went wrong can be pinned on me.

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


Things lost

When my mother left my father the second time, my Easy Bake oven flew out the back of the truck and was left lying in the pasture where it landed. I wonder if the cows were surprised to find it, not quite as dramatic as a house falling on a witch, but what would they know?

It hurt my feelings that she saw it go and didn’t stop to see if it could be salvaged, but as a symbol of our shattered home, it warranted leaving and her callous laughter. It was her war story, with her as its hero making a daring escape after a close call.

When I left my father’s house for the third time in the 7th grade, I lost my magic. I stopped seeing the spirit world with its mysteries. Invisible worlds inside carpets of moss, around the curve in the rabbit hole, in between walls or through the gaps in current time, these places were lost. I refocused my eyes to see what was coming ahead of me.

When I left my mother’s house for the last time, the day after my high school graduation, I lost my powerlessness. I lost pieces of memories of guilt and shame and of bearing witness. Without a backward glance, I got busy losing and finding and losing my rage at all that humans were and were not.

Afternoon

In the fall, we transition from chasing shadow to chasing sun. At its brightest it is only just enough and cause for celebration. It is scarce and so savored. Sunblock and floppy hats are cast aside and we pretend not to notice the freckles we get in the fall. They can’t hurt us, what could be the harm.

Stretching, the cat extends one paw into the afternoon’s shadow and recoils it immediately, bringing it close to her body as if comforting it after its foray out of the light. The little yard looks dusty and unkept with dry leaves littering the back and the brown grass with clumps of rope weed like an unshaved beard, embarrassing to look at in conversation.

We don’t care. Me with my books and lists and recipes and coffee; Bella and Betty with their scraps of sun and satisfaction. It is all we need, this little open air room of a yard with trees, flowers, birds and a flat place to stretch out. It is our little place, an island in a sea of humanity.

Patricia Bidar: THE CRIME

It has been a hot day, and Micheline idly scratches her underaram as she removes her work blouse and replaces it with the t shirt she slept in last night. If she avoids checking e-mail, she might get to bed at a decent hour. Her third work night in a row. Her bodily smell comforts her. Reminds her of creatively fruitful times.

The knock at her front door is unprecedented. It is nearly eleven. The lives on a dirty but reassuringly busy street. Is it better to ignore it, as every particle of her wishes to do? If someone’s out trying locks, best they think someone’s  home. She presses her face against the mail slot. It creaks faintly; the corner hurts her cheek. Her heart skitters. She will call out gruffly, “Who is it?” But no sound comes, as in a dream. There is a man there. He is unusually short. Mustn’t he be, for her to see his profile so close to the mail slot? She sees every white bristle on his face. Which is suddenly pressed against hers. Clean sweat, tongue, wetness, odd sounds. She sees that tan placket at the top of faded Levi 501’s He is gone. Her porch light illuminates dust-furred pots of succulents and that is all. She has tasted another person’s mouth. It has been years.

Now she is left with her hands on the cool wall, regarding the oil painting her grandmother left her, the vertical image of dewy cotton bolls. She presses herself to the mail slot again, hurts her cheek again. Opens her mouth and closes her eyes.

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

Even The Lightning

It was unseasonably hot that evening in June. A chorus of crickets filled in where the thunder was silent, being as the evening was marked by heat lightning. It was the kind of thing that folks sat on their porches to marvel at when they were too hot to go inside.

Daisy and Chip would have been a handsome couple, if they’d been old enough for sophistication. We rarely saw them apart from one another, but we never saw them pawing at each other or hanging on for dear life, the way some young people do. They were the best of friends with a spark dancing between them. Daisy had a bouncy little haircut and Chip always wore a button down shirt, even when he was out mowing his parents’ yard. We all thought they made a lovely couple and hoped they would stay here in Seward, having bright-eyed children with the right kind of values, fearing God and loving their neighbors.

They were elemental, like atoms at the heart of a chain reaction, or, more simply, like the crackle of a summer campfire with the dew settling on the ground. Yes, even the lightning spoke well of them. Magnetic, magnanimous, mirthful, they were all of these things. We thought. So we thought.

We never knew where Daisy was born. She was with us for so long, we forgot this wasn’t her birth home. What would it matter, anyway? She’d been in Seward since she was a slip of a thing, not yet in school. Still, later we said how we’d never noticed, but had since come to realize that her parents didn’t have any of her baby pictures on their walls. Now, of course it all makes sense.

It happened that muggy June evening when one of the boys in town, that Jeffrey Harris, a true devil—now mark this, he’ll never amount to anything in this life—was peeping into the Haas family’s bathroom. Apparently Daisy was taking a bath. When she…or whatever she was…got out, that terrible boy fell right off his ladder, as if struck by lightning. We thought the fall served him right and told him so. We thought his talk about “she was a he” and “he was a she” afterwards was a consequence of his fall. But then the Haas family disappeared like smoke in the air and Chip with them. That Chip must have known about Daisy’s situation the whole time. Can you imagine.

No. There are some things I can’t comprehend and shouldn’t be asked to. I’m a simple woman, who can’t be expected to understand the ways of the lightning.

* “Even the lightning spoke well of them,” used with recognition for W.S. Merwin

Patricia Bidar: They Don’t Make Neighbors Like They Used To

I grew up with a woman in harem pants who lived in a glass bottle. When her master called her, she would emerge to see what he wanted. As I recall, they bickered a lot. He was an astronaut who needed to appear sane. So no one could know about Jeannie. She was always in a snit, disappearing in a tendril of smoke and sulking on her curved couch inside the bottle. Her master had one friend, kind of a dumb playboy. He was so dumb he thought nothing of the fact that his neighbor owned a woman in a bottle, and he never complained about all that arguing. He normally wore his snappy work uniform everywhere he went. Who wouldn’t? All the chicks were wild for these guys.

I also grew up with a family who’d made it big in oil (AKA “Texas Tea”). They didn’t have many friends, but they stuck together. Their main friends were their banker and his assistant. The assistant was a spinster and a birdwatcher, which was pretty hilarious, I guess. The banker was always trying to swindle them. The father of the family was sexy in his country clothing and his amused eyes. His mother was always in a snit about something and would stomp around I her long skirt and combat boots. He had these sexy teenage kids. Jethro: kind of a dumb playboy and Ellie Mae, who wore a rope for a belt and loved animals, which she raised in their pool.

My favorite neighbors moved away from the city to the country. I used to love hanging around with the wife, Lisa, because we both love air conditioning and a penthouse view. She and her husband were both veterans of WWII; she as a member of the Hungarian underground and he as an ace flyer. I never got around to asking them how they met. Because her husband out of the blue decided he wanted to be a gentleman farmer. Everyone from his wife to his handyman to his neighbor, whose son was a pig named Arnold, thought he was out of his mind. Lisa on the other hand was an “out of the box’ thinker whose ideas included mending socks with staples, throwing dirty dishes out the window and moving back to New York. Unfortunately, her short-fused husband always got the last word, even though all of his plans and schemes were failures.

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

Sleeping Outside

Dad pitched the tent a couple days before the sleepover was scheduled. He said it needed to air out, that it was musty from having been in the shed for so long. It was his thick green canvas army tent. You could fit a table and chairs for six and still have room for sleeping bags if you wanted to. It was humongous.

He didn’t put it up very often and when he did there was a lot of cussing. Aunt Arlene used to laugh and say there weren’t enough cuss words for Dennis, my dad, so he made up new ones as he went. She was right. When he was mad, any word could become a swear and the use of them became a competitive sport, in which he was the only athlete. For years I thought the word “touchhole” was obscene until some girlfriends and I got hysterical by saying it and actually looked it up. It’s not a cuss by Merriam-Webster’s account, but in my father’s mouth, it was atrocious.

When the tent came out of the shed, my mother started searching for enough loose change to take us for ice cream. She couldn’t stand to listen to it and she did not want to start hearing Dad’s vocabulary come out of our eight and six year old mouths. No thank you. By the time we got home, the tent was up under the stand of birch trees. Dad was sitting on a lawn chair inside the tent and drinking a can of beer.

I visited the tent every day, running circles inside it and pretending it was a circus tent. Sometimes, I lay down in the middle of it with my arms and legs stretched out, imagining my Dad in the army. Finally the day arrived for the sleepover and my mother had to sweep all the grass and gravel out of the tent. Maybe it got in there when I rode my bike around inside it, but who knows?

My friends Amy, Leslie, Debbie, and Marsha came over with their sleeping bags and pillows, but it was hours before dark and so we had hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill and made cake in my Easy Bake oven. We strung beads to make necklaces and bracelets until the sun sank below the tree line and it was time to drag our sleeping bags across the grass and put them in the tent. After some discussion, we decided we would sleep with our heads in the middle of the tent with our feet extending out from the center like a star.

We told stories and played with our flashlights until my mother yelled from the house to stop wasting the batteries. We turned them off and continued to talk, laughing until my mother called out that we would wake the dead and the dead would go to the tent first to see what the commotion was about.

We tossed and turned on the hard ground and the dampness crept into our blankets, making our skin feel clammy. Putting our heads inside our sleeping bags, we filled them with our breath and flailed against the mosquitoes buzzing in our ears until a light shower of rain pattered us to sleep.