Hard freeze

The morning sun had been up for hours, its rays more a diamond’s cold glitter than warming. Frost glistened on the shaded oak leaves at the back of her yard, where a murder of crows was having breakfast. They flung the acorns onto the street in showers, and waited for cars to drive over and crack them open. They’d been at it for weeks, a bumper crop of nuts.

She sat in her kitchen on a high stool at the counter, looking out the window over the sink and watching the crows. Coffee was still warm in her mug and she kept her hands wrapped around it, listening to the heater click and whirl. The sound of it lulled her mind back toward sleep, a floating place where memories rose, performed, and dissipated like watching a play through fog.

Her father walked through the haze as she remembered him best, when he was the prize at the bottom of the Cracker Jacks, when he was the tallest man she’d ever seen with his head skimming the clouds. Even then he limped and the sound of his uneven footfall echoed in her ears. “Don’t wear cheap shoes or you’ll ruin your feet,” he told her as he sat soaking his before scraping the corns and callouses with a razor blade.

Her neighbor’s rooster gave call, a little late she thought, but earlier than his usual 3PM alert. Because her house sat at the top of a small hill, her neighbors were fanned out around her at descending altitudes. The sound of their roosters, automotive backfires, and Chinese New Year firecrackers carried up, including her in all their public sounds, and some private moments she preferred to mute with NPR’s educated patter.

But those were sounds of other days. Today there were hungry crows and the frost melting off trees, a sound she could only imagine, the quietest trickle, the tiniest whoosh of evaporation.

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Shadow season

She sat in the middle of the living room. It was early, still dark, and the neighborhood was hushed. There was an empty knocking in her stomach, a rattle like a loose window in a storm. She put her hand on it, but the slight weight and warmth of it made her feel like retching.

Daniel was out of town, gone for ten days. Work, he said. Conference backed up against conference, he said. It was possible. It could be true, she thought. It might be.

The dog’s snoring, usually a comfort, instead brought a feeling of déjà vu. She had a half-memory, a conversation on the whispered edge of recollection. It would not come to her, but left her there aching in the half-light.

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.

**********

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

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.

Breasts

I sat on an old woven lawn chair with my portable typewriter on a TV tray in front of me. My handwritten sign read, “Poetry, Hot off the Presses! Only $1 per poem. Any subject!”

It was so hot it hurt, so I’d brought a parasol to hide under, planning for the time in between the few poems I expected to write. By 10 AM, the farmer’s market a half a block away was bustling and I had a line of customers that was almost 10-deep!

First in line were 3 young people with bright dyed hair—blue, green and pink. They chose Marx, Spelunking, and Mt. Everest for their poems. College students.

Two little boys waited sort of patiently towards that back of the line. Every now and then they would run by me, first one chasing, then the other. I heard them talking about a bug on a leaf and one of their balls flew by my head when they were playing catch. Their mom held their place in line and occasionally re-directed their rambunctiousness to quieter things.

The youngest was a daredevil—he was the first to jump in the fountain (to his mother’s dismay), the first to dive head first after a ball or to throw down a challenge, a double dog dare ya to the older brother. At long last, he stood before me grinning with his lower jaw stuck out.

“What should I write your poem about?” I asked.

He squirmed for a few long seconds and then said, “BREASTS!” in a loud voice and ran behind his mother, who flushed purple, but smiled at me.

“Coming right up, young man!”

Breasts

Big and small
Far and wide
Bounce and jiggle,
They sure don’t hide.

You can see ‘em
in the grocery store
and at the market, too.
You can even find ‘em when you go
to buy your baseball shoes.

I pulled it out of the typewriter with flourish. He hid behind his mother, but reached around her to grab his poem. He ran away with it held above his head.