Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My Mirror Image

Short Fiction:

My Mirror Image

We were all invisible then, each in a different way. If I’d known what was going to happen, I’d have paid more attention. Or, I’d have tried, perhaps. I should have been better at it. I was in school then, and had just read “Our Town.” I kept saying to Jesse and Jesse, “Look at me, Mother. Please, just look at me.” And they would look, glazed, and maybe giggling, or sober, or half-crocked, and then we would all laugh. Or be spooked . But I wasn’t looking myself. I was too burnt and too hidden inside myself, and it would get worse before it got better.

It wouldn’t get better for a long time.

We lived in the stone house at the bottom of the park. When I think of it now, it seems at is if opened into the park, but of course, that’s but a dream fragment from the mixed up dreams I always have about the place. In some of the dreams, it is me who dies of AIDS and I see everything as if I were watching from above. Or I am killing Jesse Peters, or maybe Jesse French. In the dream, I am the one pulling the trigger.

The real house opened away from the park. We lived in the basement. To get to the park, we walked up around the house and through the wild locusts and the grove of tree-lilacs. Up and up and up to the brick water tower at the top of the hill where the whole city spread below. Because the house was built on a hill, the back of the stone-house apartment was below ground, but the front, downhill corner was above ground. It faced south and had large leaded glass windows in the front that filled the basement living room with sparkly light.

We three Jesses looked almost as if we were siblings. We each had shoulder length wavy auburn hair, with varying amounts of red, and freckles. Jesse Peters was tall, lean, loose limbed and always looked a little out of focus, at least in my memory. Fuzzy and slightly unkempt. Jesse French was the best looking. He was more compact, more handsome. Shorter. His face looked almost like a movie star, except for the long waving auburn hair. And then there was me, Jesse Martin. I was sort of between them, not quite rangy, not quite compact.

We were part of a vast, ever-changing group of students and hippies that shifted and moved around the Westcott Nation, and we had no particular affiliation with each other before we rented the house together. An invisible dealer dealt the three of us into a single hand held by the stone house and not much else. Mostly, I thought of them as friends. Friends are good, I thought, and I was happy to have them, though we rarely felt as close as I would have liked.

Jesse and Jesse had dropped out. Jesse French lay on his bed and listened to jazz in his room or disappeared for hours and sometimes days, never saying where he went or when he’d return. Sometimes, he would make elaborate meals and invite us to join him, other times he wouldn’t speak for a month. He often wore a Buddha-like expression, and meditated for hours at a time without moving a muscle. I tried, but could never catch him blinking. He was on some special diet, a modified macrobiotic diet, and he got skinnier and skinnier. I thought he might have anorexia, but he laughed bitterly when I asked him about it and turned away as if I were a fool.

Jesse Peters sat around stoned most of the time, or wandered stoned through the park, grinning and embracing anyone who would hug him back. “Don’t bring me down,” he would say, when he offered me a toke and I said I had too much homework. Not that I always said no. Sometimes, I acquiesced, either eagerly, or half unwilling. We would sit in the sparkly living room listening to John Fahey and saying profound things and laughing. It wasn’t hard—anything we said sounded profound at the time. Or he would try to help me with my homework. The homework usually seemed so absurd that we would dissolve in tears of laughter and roll on the floor trying to catch the rainbows that flitted across each other’s faces.

Sometimes, when we were really stoned, I’d get confused and think we were all three the same person, that looking at Jesse Peters, or Jesse French when he joined us, was looking in the mirror. They seemed like mirror images of me; we looked so alike in so many ways. We seemed to merge together out of a shiny slippage at the edge of my peripheral vision. But it wasn’t a comfortable merging, more like tumbling into a black hole and scrabbling at the edge trying to keep from falling in and being consumed. That’s when I would think that my homework abstinence was a really good idea. And I’d take a break from getting stoned for a while. A day or two at least.

Late in the spring semester, as I was coming back through the park with my backpack weighted down with homework, Jesse Peters leaped out of the bushes grinning ear to ear and hugged me. The sun was shining low and warm and honey orange. It was a spring fever kind of afternoon. We were standing between two blocky stone pillars, a long stairway dropping away to one side, a vast treed lawn expanding away on the other. He slipped a cap of Osley acid into my hand, purple, if I remember right, or maybe pink, and I stared at it stupidly and then swallowed it. We romped through the park together, lay on our backs and watched the trees melt and the sky collapse and waves of electrical energy pulse through everything.

Later, when we were down enough to move again, we swung on the swings, slid down the slides and climbed over the fence to swim in the pool under a full moon. When the cops came, Jesse Peters hugged them. They shown their flashlights at my quivering nakedness for a while and then let us go.

When we got home, Jesse Peters ambled happily into his room and fell asleep. I lay on the living room floor, still floating, watching the moonlight sparkle through the leaded glass in dim little rainbows while brighter rainbows leapt about the room like dancing fairies as cars passed. Fewer and fewer cars passed. I must have fallen asleep on the floor.

When I felt someone pressing themselves against me, urgently, I thought it was Jesse Peters, and though I wasn’t feeling inclined toward him that way I moved against him willingly for a moment, until I realized he felt wrong. When I opened my eyes, it was not Jesse Peters, but Jesse French. He was smiling beatifically and welcomingly as he pushed against me. He had never shown an interest in me before, and I didn’t want him, but when I tried to roll away, he clutched me tight. He didn’t kiss me, but turned his face away from me as if I were sick or ugly. And he was rough. He hurt me. When he got up, I was bleeding. He disappeared smoothly into his room as if he moved on polished tracks, not looking back.

I was crying when Jesse Peters came out. He said he would go to the Westcott Market to get me some ice to stop the bleeding. I stuffed a wad of toilet paper in my panties and went with him. “He’s got AIDS,” Jesse told me as we walked up the hill, me hobbling painfully, “you’ll have to get tested. Especially since you’re bleeding.” I was stunned, and followed, limping, a few steps behind him in silence, imagining the terrible possibilities. Back then, people always died of AIDS. Jesse French was going to die. Maybe I was, too.

We came, as we always did, to the little Westcott Street store through the back parking lot. It was the closest way from the house. In the center of the lot, two men were arguing. Jesse approached them. One pulled a gun. Jesse stepped between them, smiling.

“Peace, brothers” he said, holding his arms out expansively, smiling broadly. The man with the gun swung it toward Jesse, directly at his chest. Only inches away. I screamed as the gun went off. Jesse crumpled to the ground and the man with the gun turned it toward me. He stood, pointing the gun toward me. I stared at him and then at Jesse, watching the blood pool around him, soaking his tie-dye peace shirt and his cut-off jeans. The peace symbol was exploded away, along with part of Jesse’s chest. Jesse didn’t move. I didn’t move. The man with the gun didn’t move.

You’d think by now, I’d be paying attention, but I don’t remember what the man looked like. Except that he had a purple birthmark on his chin and neck. Not a big one, really, but big enough to see from where I stood, maybe ten feet away.

There was a great silence and stillness. It seemed to last a long time. The gun pointed toward me, the man’s hand not wavering. Jesse lying utterly still. Only the blood moving out away from his body across the tarmac.

Then everything erupted in motion, people converging from the houses and street and out the back door of the store. The two men fled and I ran to Jesse. He was staring at me. Right at me, but I could tell he couldn’t see me. I grabbed his wrist, trying to feel for a pulse. Put my hand under his nose and over his mouth to feel for breath. Nothing. I was crying, sobbing. Someone pulled me away. Paramedics. But they didn’t save him; it was too late. They covered him with a sheet. Covered his sweet stilled face.

People were asking questions. Cops. The same cops from the pool, looking more tired, looking much more serious. They were disgusted that I couldn’t describe the men. “One had a birthmark,” I said. “The one with the gun. On his chin, here.” I pointed to my chin, to the wrong side, I later realized, after the AIDS test came back negative and I realized I’d be the only one of the three stone-house Jesses who would live. I pointed to the side where the birthmark would be if the murderer were my mirror image. As if it were me who had killed Jesse Peters, mixing him up in my confusion with Jesse French, who was going to be dead soon, too, and would have willingly taken me with him.

Mary Taitt

Thursday, May 24, 2007, 1st

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

He Doesn't Know

Brand new today, from one of Graham's poetry assignments for school:

He Doesn't Know

He doesn't know

that every morning,

when he leaves for school

I go to the back window

to watch him retrieve his bike,

carefully pull down the awkward door

and with that swaying, heavy pack, mount

and ride toward school.

He doesn't know

I hurry to the front

and watch him (my heart in hand)

fly into the street

without looking

visibly left or right (me, gripping the sill)

'til he flies

across the grass on the other side

leaving a thin trace

that remains long

after he is out of sight.

He never guesses

How much I long to hold him

the way I did when he was young,

to smooth his hair,

to kiss his freckled cheek,

to circle my arm around his shoulders.

He doesn't know

How hard it is to refrain,

now that he's too old

for the foolishness of mother love,

from waving and calling goodbye,

or worse yet, blowing kisses,

or if he does,

he keeps it quietly to himself

and goes on growing


Mary Taitt

For Graham

070522, 1st draft 5-22-0