|The Presumptuous Screen|
12:37PM. I sit on a high stool opposite Martha in a chain 'gourmet' restaurant where everyone looks a little too Republican. Our intended downtown Biltmore coffee shop had run short of bagels. My latte is a little on the bitter side. I am holding the first half of a bagel which has been burnt all along its edges. I meet eyes with an older woman whose lipstick is too dark and sits in the deep cracks of her lips. The shade reminds me of my mother. Martha runs her fingers through her hair and spreads the smallest dab of ivory-colored cream cheese down a trio of neighboring strands.
1:07PM. We drive out of narrow lanes and descend a steep hill, bringing downtown Asheville into view. The BB&T building is the tallest. In the slight gloom, Asheville's structures are not beautiful or impressive. Martha and I sing together: "And we drop, drop tears like tallymarks / And it builds like snow / And it keeps up apart." Her voice is louder than mine and significantly more in tune.
2:23PM. The Goodwill dressing room feels twenty degrees warmer than the air of the store itself. I arrange my hair again, digging my fingertips to my roots and flicking outward; then, I position the two sides of my part accordingly. I feel traditional hatred for my hips.
2:45PM. With more maneuvering than it was worth, I have positioned my cart--not full, but necessary--behind a brimming cart which is temporary owner to a young girl. She may be about twelve years of age, but I am not an expert in guessing. She turns, meets my eyes once or twice with a blink: unguessable emptiness that many no doubt repeat for the accidental connection of strangers. She states warmly that she likes my already-owned plaid peacoat, which is draped over my arm. I thank her. She is wearing a blouse and a skirt--both of different tones of camouflage. She continues talking to me with an eerie, adult confidence; she makes the wait unintimidating and lifelike.
2:59PM. An overweight woman is holding a silver butter dish with three identical price stickers. She has one item; I have more than one. I offer her the slot in line ahead of me, but she declines with an air of gratitude. She asks me if I found anything good. Well, a white and black belled peacoat, I explain, which is what I've been looking for. Her response indicates her involuntary disinterest.
3:25PM. The air outside is cold but welcomed. The snow is not worth speaking of yet. A familiar face hangs from a jungle green Volkswagen Jetta: the volunteer coordinator from the rape crisis center I volunteer for. She is smiling--brightly, as always--and bounces her baby daughter, Bella. The child has a wispy head of white-blond hair that seems as if it would smear if touched.
3:48PM. EarthFare is filled with customers. Outside, there is a family of bellydancers, which I find odd and uncomfortable, though at the same time culturally celebratory and fitting. The shelves of organic wines reach high. Our cashier is a young woman with frizzing dreadlocks and acne. She gives me a look that does not speak of mutual kindness.
6:07PM. I walk back from dinner alone. A car goes by with two skateboarders hanging onto opposite windows that have been rolled down. I have always liked the sound of the wheels.
7:32PM. I cheerfully put salt on a tomato slice. The Beatrix Potter cartoon I am watching helps my laughter become more childlike. When Peter is hurt, it sounds like he is moaning.
8:07PM. While I pour myself more water, I talk in synchronization with Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail when she describes her love for the words of Pride & Prejudice. Thither. Felicity.
8:47PM. My face is not a good starting point. There is little I can do; and the more I do, the more I am displeased. The contours horrify me with hopelessness.
9:40PM. I pass a car and speed for a few seconds. The lights of the city match the beat--in feel, not rhythm. My new black gloves make me feel protected.
10:35PM. A black man in a khaki trench coat approaches us. His face is light, and his features are friendly. I've lately been listening to a live album of Bill Withers' (thank you, Nathaniel) and lightheartedly picture this man dancing on a Saturday night in Harlem. He tells us in a manner that seems genuine and veracious that he has completed a program for alcoholics and is being denied a bus pass due to this. His face scrunches. He provides a disclaimer: And I promise. And I swear. His voice breaks with emotion. We each hand over a single dollar. If nothing else, I invested in a truth I wanted to be alive. If nothing else, I may have paid for a grand performance.
10:42PM. There is a light snow. I enter Jack of the Wood pub with Courtney and Dan. Ordered? A Green Man stout--the darkest option, the pub's own beer, and a coarse taste lined with espresso. Music? Local gypsy bluegrass jazz. It reminds me of New Orleans, which seems off. The beat is addictive. Problem? I refuse to take off my coat, thus rendering me altogether too warm. Other problem? Watching my friends (indeed, a couple) dancing smoothly gives me a draining feeling behind my eyes, which I realize is the inverse of crying. Realization? There is something beautiful and large in the space separating the faces of two people when they dance.
11:39PM. Keep the corners of your mouth upturned just slightly. Do not show misery. The mandolin player looks into the crowd in a way that is unnerving.
11:42PM. I do not want to dance because I consider most touch personal.
12:07AM. Walking back, a snowflake dies in my eye.
12:50AM. I try to return his call. No answer. The snow on the road moves like dry dust, groups of birds, and beaten rugs.
1:20AM. She is asleep with her lantern on. I have no idea what her night has been. My boots clack in a defiant yet painful repetition. I shower and think nonstop with Silverchair's "Straight Lines" in the background of my recollection. I remember a short story by Virginia Woolf.
2:16AM. I take Jane Austen's Emma with me to bed. I need a friend.