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Put That Madhouse Back in Your Pocket by Arlene Ang and Valerie Fox


  1

Sheís there. Sheís a ďcharacter.Ē People used to say that, dismissively. But before she was there she was here.


Iím talking about her business card: Reclaimed. Antiques. Specializing In Things That Are Blue. A cow bell led me to her booth at the State Fair, and the next day I took her to the car graveyardóour first dateówhere she took off most of her clothes.


That was when I learned she was using an assumed name. The yellow dress slid to the ground as I took pictures of her on a scarred Buick Skylark. I had to take her hand to stop her from undressing. Completely. The first date. She didnít shave.

 

And later, five years ago, we bought bus tickets. We had a bookmark on page 45 of The Fly Fishing Guidebook. In possessing physical things, Eve said, we find our purpose. I lifted her right eyelid that night I found her passed out on the floor to study the sclera. It was a pit that gleamed in the dim light. Because of my height, the army wouldnít have me. But she did. Were we truly happy then? I mean, contented? When I look at my feet, I see holes in my socks that someone else made.

 

One thing was certain about our marriage: All we ever did was rent.

 

   2

 

Who am I? I used to read all the time. I still do. Also, Iím one of those people you can find at the zoo. I know which subspecies of tiger are already extinct and that the future depends on the Bengal. Iím out there. You may have seen me.

 

We bought those bus tickets but we never left the house, the county, the state. We had her step-grandmotherís collection of salt and pepper shakers. Most days that seemed enough.

 

People pay the most for the pictures I took in the alleyway. And the ones we shot in the room my old Aunt Ernestine had converted into a beauty parlor. Eve, naked, but wearing a church or a garden party hat.

 

She had a childís prescience. It wasnít real. It was absurd and inarguable. She was my friend and it feels like she still is. Still is. Her father (this is a secret) died many years ago. No one talks about it. They are embarrassed by his habits. By ďtheyĒ I mean the remaining family, the ones she ran away from with no oneís blessing. She kept one picture though. Eleven strangers staring at the camera. She blocked out their eyes with a black-tipped pen, and they became humane.

 

I carry her around with me in this picture that never included her. Waiting for something to happen.


  3

I have said that before she was there she was here.  When I make something, I am making it for her. When I go to a new city itís like the next stop on the honeymoon we never got to take.

 

Iíll get in a mood. I find it nearly impossible not to speak to her, to write to her. You. I always think, you. I donít see a dead bird and think: Eve would like this, she would want to take a picture. No, I think: You would like this, you would pull out a feather. You would touch the feather to your face.

 

When I start to think like that, I turn on all the lights and try not to sleep. Smoke, bleach: Combine and add salt to taste. I must've looked sad today because walking down the street people kept handing me harmonicas.

 

  4

Before her death, Eve was reading As I Lay Dying again. She wasnít even drunk. Wherever I go, I see her in the lipstick on someoneís front teeth. I have become my own furniture.


They took her away. The sound was a book as it dropped on the floor. Eventually, I found the page where she stopped. She used a receipt for three eggs to remember her place. I can imagine her death aloud to anyone. Though Iíve been so busy. I could be anyone. My mouth is her mouth is their mouth. With her nail trimmers and scarves and coleslaw.

 

I see the arrhythmia. The fists. The public restrooms. The faces on sunglasses. A taste. Like wearing vinegar, lighter fluid. Shoeboxes that rely on people to be opened. The ambient aging of envelopes without letters. And in the fumarole of it allóher suicide in so many twisted ways.

 

And then I start anew. In the library, Iíve found several tapes that document fetuses using different types of abortions.

 

   5

 

You have to picture this or draw this: The moon lights up the page, like a cigarette.

 

Eve had been dead less than three months. The Rev told me to keep a journal to keep track of time. She kept saying, Iím here to help you. She kept asking me about my childhood and my real mother. About Eve she could only guess, fastened on to some kind of scent, trying to figure out an animalís habits.

 

Two hands: one to write and one to tear out every other page. Two hands circling and thankful for bread and a new pair of shoes. Now everyone is so kind to me, their pet. Iím on their warm, fuzzy news. I must show a modicum of self-control. Iíll grant that to the Rev. She started me putting down words. Now Iím all filled with scribbles and canít help but wonder what happened to our record albums.

 

In the morning Iíll have to start walking and rattling the bones in my pockets. Iím in a nice motel. Haha, no Bible. When did they stop having Bibles in motel rooms? Eve was like that. She could ascertain my accent.

 

. 6

 

Some days the earth pulls me down faster than usual. Gravity. Wine. Gravity.

 

When Iím not drinking, I dream. Iím back again in the color of our house, the blue paneling and the bar downstairs.  Inevitably the smell of the darkroom draws leafy shadows in the blinds, a butterfly camouflaged like a poisonous cloud. A clamor in the hall always makes me freeze, like itís a medical emergency, or an emergency with birds in it.

 

I never see her body when Iím in this state, but a giant white lab rat guards my quick escape. Vaguely, I understand Iím the mouse trap and, later, the hand touching the dead mouse. I donít see either, but the it is implied, as the body of Eve is implied, by lumps in the shadows. I wake up shouting, and itís not even real.

 

I go outside. Each new city is the next stop on the honeymoon we never got to take. The question was never of money, but primal necessities. In her absence, Eve and I travel finally without fighting. The madhouse is already out of reach. I have become my own future. You can see it, but donít tell anyone.

 

 

 

 

 

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