miller moths

Miller moths, heavy as helicopters, stumbled through the stale air of their third-floor apartment that summer, and when he came home from work and stripped off his seersucker plaid shirt, leaving nothing but a thin white v-neck to sweat in, he dashed about the apartment issuing awkward swats with a rolled-up newspaper, triumphantly leaving sooty filament stains where moth wings met the plastered wall.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” she’d say from her post at the narrow gas stove, meticulously frying chicken breasts the way her mother had shown her. “It’s disgusting.”

He ignored her, however, and continued on in his senselessly predatory pursuit of graceless dirt-colored insects, focusing his lichen-hued eyes in a way that unsettled her with its lack of humanity.

At the bank down the street she spent her daytime hours, bundled in turtleneck sweaters and wool plaid skirts to ward off the artificially cold air. When she came home she immediately kicked off her cheap leather shoes, peeling off her nylon stockings and leaving them in an ever-growing pile at the corner of their bedroom. She laid in bed underneath a screenless window, at mercy to the lung-hot air which only became agitated by an ineffectual ceiling fan. When he came home a half-hour later he joined her there. They said nothing; words that would not have traveled, anyway, through the high-viscosity atmosphere.

At six o’clock he removed his first beer from the squat fridge while she took a stemmed glass from the cupboard, filling it with vinegary pale-yellow wine. Then dinner, and on his second or third beer, when the new darkness brought the onslaught of flying vermin, he performed his duty. Afterwards they sat at the massive antique oak table and argued for lack of conversation.

“They leave marks all over the walls,” she would say, pushing an itinerant pile of couscous around her stoneware plate. “I can’t scrub it them off either.”

He tensed, eyeing another one. “I guess you would rather have them flying around the house then.” It progressed from there and usually ended with her tearfully requesting to be sent back home to Detroit, where there were no moths at all, and then he would have no one to cook him dinner, since that’s all he wanted here there for anyway, and him sweetly capitulating, and then they would brush their teeth together in the diminutive bathroom off of the kitchen, and fall into the still-hot bed, grown warmer by their youthful presence.

On Friday evenings, without fail, she requested to be taken out to dinner, to be escorted manfully by him to the Greek restaurant with outdoor patio, the barbecue stand with the sweet tiny corn-muffins, or the pizza place on the lush campus of the private college from which he had graduated. That was her least favorite, because they would inevitably run into old friends of his, still giddy in their newfound post-college freedom, old friends who were not resentfully tied down with a dropout bank teller from Detroit.

“You’re just as smart as they are,” he assured her, but she sensed insincerity, whether it existed or not. “You just need to exert yourself a little more.” She rode through campus, tense in the passenger seat of his black Volkswagen Golf, choosing not to contest either statement.

Afterward dinner they drank at the brewery with the pool tables where the bartender, Joe, gave them free beers in exchange for augmented tips, or at a neon-signed dive bar on Nevada Street where the winking proprietor generously slung glass goblets full of testy concoctions, appeasing both sulking fixtures and exuberant students alike.

Drunk, they liked and hated each other as much as when sober, but the strain of their interactions temporarily lifted. She still idolized him, with his notoriety and capacity for self-exertion, while he still needed her with her pillowy sensuality and vulnerable domesticity. He still despised her lack of focus and pedigree, while she still chafed from his arrogance and reckless masculinity.

The end of most Friday nights that summer either came together or fell apart, melodramatically so. She might become irrationally incensed at a misplaced and harmless comment and decide to walk home, stumbling in her patent heels past squat bungalows until he, distraught, found her ten minutes later, wherupon she would issue epithets and threats before breaking down and climbing into the waiting car. He might grow weary of another young man’s attention to her, address the situation, and consequently become unwelcome in the establishment while she trailed behind him, proud and ashamed. When they arrived home he would burn things in the toaster oven while she fell into bed still clothed, and in the morning they would wake relieved if wholly pained, to spend Saturday in bed, nursing tall glasses of Alka-Seltzer.

At the end of the summer they flew to Seattle to visit his parents in their modern house on Lake Washington. They caught crabs in live traps and viewed orcas from a motorboat in the Puget Sound, and his mother, a short-cropped practical nurse, made a dessert with cherries and kirsch that she lit on fire.

“Cherry flambe,” she announced triumphantly.

In the fall he slept with another woman, a plain but ambitious acquaintance from his college days who had invited him, “just as friends”, he assured his companion, to a wedding another state away. She sensed it sharply as she lay in the bed alone that Saturday evening, underneath the window where chill now passed. A single moth laconically bumped against the ceiling before coming to rest in the corner peacefully. By the time he came back she had left.

That it ended doesn’t matter as much as that it was, for a short while. He stopped drinking and learned carpentry. A year later, she married a pleasant man in Detroit.

Summers and miller moths continued to flourish, unaware.

cardboard

The elevator walls shimmered with lacquered faux-wood paneling, recently cleaned, judging from the chemical-lemon scrubbed air. The box she held, slowly unfolding itself from the bottom with every vibration, contained relics : two distinct thick-edged porcelain mugs, several large glass mixing bowls, a set of twelve well-used demitasse spoons, a flowered red chintz apron, and a stainless steel shish kebab skewer which poked at her from the bottom fold, the light metallic jangle of a potato ricer rattling against it.

When she was nine, for exactly one year, she had known a paralyzing fear of the interiors of elevators. One elevator ride had set it off, initiating a sudden onslaught of profound atmospheric intensity, rendering her lungs momentarily useless; permeable and flimsy as toilet paper. She attributed it to the air, believing, for one year, that within the confines of elevators there existed an atmosphere specifically noxious to her alone. A panic attack, the pediatrician had called it. “Perfectly normal,” he said, but by then she was gone, lost in the deep examination of a ‘signs of melanoma’ poster.

“Let’s take the stairs,” her dad would say in any instance afterward, patting her chubby arm. “Better exercise.” When she turned ten, the morning after she blew out candles on the white-icing-edged cake Mom had purchased at Publix, the fear had disappeared. Dad had regarded the cake with disgust — he would make her a sloppy yellow-cake-chocolate-icing with colored sprinkles later — and after he left, Emily watched her mom scrape icing waves off the china dessert plates with peach-manicured fingers, licking each one carefully as she haphazardly loaded them into the dishwasher. “You got so many nice presents,” Mom remarked absently from the kitchen, her voice in harmony with the delicate clanking. She hadn’t responded, dug her fingers into a crack between the tan pleather cushions and focused her attention on the television; Full House, Uncle Joey and the gang. When Dad came to pick her up the next morning, she strode securely to the elevator, and that was that. “I guess you’re a big girl now,” he had said. She had always assumed it was the cake, though: the conclusion of a superstitious and exacting child.

Now she attributed it to the mysterious life expectancy of fears. She curved her fingers around the edge of a shoddily folded cardboard flap.

“Aren’t you going to tape those,” Pete had asked in disgust, not even watching, his back to her, meticulously wrapping his artwork in foam.

“I’m not going to pretend like I’m not sad,” she replied in meter and after a pause, punctuating this statement with one last haphazard toss, a bouquet of cooking utensils gathered from the drawers; her drawers. Her kitchen. Their kitchen.

“What does that have to do with sadness? Just pack it right. That’s all I’m saying.” His voice had trailed until it sounded nearly sympathetic. She could feel his eyes on her back, pity tracing the peaked points of t-shirt cotton where her backbones stuck out.

Nearing the lobby, she gripped the bottom of the box tighter. She knew she could make it to her car in seven quick strides.

it’s may, for goodness’ sake

It snowed last night.

ugly

Oh, how awful.

intersection somewhere in denver

Let me start by explaining this place. First, there was an intersection. Two roads, one from the north, Wyoming; one from the east; Nebraska. She had come from both places in a friendly silver vehicle. It was on the western side of this intersection, under the watchful cyclopean eye of a parking meter which ran from 7am to 7pm, that she parked the vehicle, locking the doors by automatic button. She did not care that the back right triangle window was missing, halfheartedly covered by a piece of plastic held in place by two strips of duct tape.

“This will be here when I get back,” she said as she headed into the intersection and began to take steps confidently in the direction of Nebraska, eyeing the buildings on the left. They were brick; solid, peaceful brick. In San Francisco there is no brick; earthquakes scramble the blocks. There is just wood, so many spires of splintery wood and dowels, painted garish colors to frame the bay, to frame the sky which was always blue in her memory, which is not to say that it was always blue, just that she refused to remember it when it was not. San Francisco: spindles, colors, blue, no bricks.

“In Denver there are bricks,” she noted to herself. It was the sort of memory she was fond of keeping. She possessed very little practical knowledge, but what she did understand had to do with the nature of buildings in many cities, in many places. This was because she was itinerant; peripatetic; a wanderer; a nomad. She liked these words, that there existed so many of them. As she walked she said them to herself.

She had on an indigo cotton dress, checkered with small raised squares of puckered fabric, colored the same. It had been navy, once, but she had washed it too many times. In fact, it was the only dress she ever wanted to wear. She had two closets full of clothes, and all she needed was this one blue dress. It concentrated her torso and flared below her hips, hanging to her ankles. She hated the modern custom of pants, but, then again, she hated the modern custom of most things, most people.

On her feet there were high heels, black patent with wide straps holding firmly her insteps. The thick, complicated heels themselves appeared to be made of asphalt and black watch tartan. These shoes made her feel like an immigrant, like she had come on a ship with the shoes and the indigo dress and nothing else, in search of brick buildings.

If you want to start something — she started to think as she passed a bum in the street, all crumpled together, his belongings all tinted the same shade of ground — something new, you may as well do it here.

She had started some things, in spindly, colorful places, with the entirely wrong footwear: tall calfskin boots; spindly slingbacks covered in linen; dirty white sneakers. That was when she had worn ill-fitting pants; dungarees, blue jeans, dragging in the coastal rain, pants which seized her thighs yet fell from her waist, hovering in between. That is the thing about pants, she thought.

She was going to an apartment (encased in brick.) There would be speckled lineoleum in the halls, and a kitchen with white painted drawers, cupped metal handles. There would be a window out of which one could climb, above a radiator with a black dial that said “open [arrow] close”. At a table narrow enough to fit in the kitchen she would sit. She hoped she would never leave. She liked those kinds of places.

Let me start by explaining this place. There is brick; never spindly colored wood. Always the sky is blue, always green parks, a flapping window in a silver car that is here when she gets back. There is the dress, once a darker blue. And that is this place.