|Publisher:||The Permanent Press (ORD)|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||343 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Geometry of Love
By Joan Fay Cuccio
The Permanent PressCopyright © 1977 Joan Fay Cuccio
All rights reserved.
The coins fall like a clattering rain, and I stand in the booth and wait for the tone so I can dial the number again. Outside it is cloudless spring. A shred of a breeze comes in through one broken pane. The phone booth smells of urine and use, and the horizontal spaces are embroidered with unreadable graffiti and smears of old gum. The phone book is missing; the chain sways loosely against my legs. I thread the coins through again and again in a small song, getting the number right on the third time, letting the call hook up. You are waiting outside, smoking a cigarette against the heat of the day. I watch you pacing the curb, hitching up your jeans on the narrow knob of your hips, settling against the side of the phone booth, one upturned sole resting below: a two-point landing. I study the pattern of holes in the perforated metal shelf, the color of gunmetal. I look at the back of your head, the press of your body against the glass, as if I were looking at your underside, the place where your body meets the world, as if I were on the outside looking in at the world and you were, somehow, enclosed, embraced, the universe.
The phone rings on, falsetto, although I know she is home. I imagine she is running in from the porch, wondering Who could that be?, or laying aside her hemming to go into the hall and pick up. A moment before she reaches for the receiver, she pats her bun from behind, spreads the wisp of her bangs across her forehead, checks herself in the hall mirror, straightens her skirt across her flat stomach, like one of those TV moms, every hair in place.
When she says Hello? her voice sounds impossibly faraway and small, as if I were calling into the cloudless sky, and her answer echoes back like a bird, her Hello? a cooing. Hello?
Mom, it's Darcy.
I'm sorry, I don't know anybody by that name, she says, cool, on cue. I almost believe her. I test this voice against all the years I have of it, all the telephone greetings, all the after-school hellos, stacked up behind this moment.
Don't do this, Mom.
What number were you dialing?
Quit, I want to say. I am eight years old again.
It's me, Mom, please. She is standing in the hall, holding the phone against her shoulder, and watching her face in the mirror. She leans across the table to rub at a smudge of color in one corner of her mouth, smiles to check her front teeth for a stain of lipstick, steps back to smooth the waist of her skirt, there, perfect. She offers me a hiccup of silence to explain, a small package of time, as if tied with a bit of brown string, but I cannot pick it up.
I'm sorry, to what party did you wish to speak?
Mom. Then, the connection is broken. I find myself saying to the dial tone, I got married. My senses are suddenly sucked back down to the phone booth, to you leaning, now impatient, outside the hinged door. On the line, the dial tone listens, constant, attentive. I hope you cannot hear the change in my voice. I put my hand on a wad of brown gum spit on the shelf, casual. Yes, yes, I say into the receiver. Everything's OK, Frank's with me, we're in San Antonio. Yes, I'll call you again when we get settled. I love you, too, Mom.
Now, heading north from San Antonio, alone, I did not stop for a phone call. What number would I dial? The traffic scarcely registered my presence as it roared past, pushing eighty on that narrow slice of asphalt in the sea of flatland. Above, the blue sky was huge, the raveled clouds barely showing behind me, and I skimmed the surface of the afternoon, like a starling, coasting, a flutter of darkness barely touching the bright and vivid sky. Like a starling but for the pounding of my heart. I was north of San Marcos before I knew what was happening, before my breathing slowed, and I pulled off at a McDonald's for an iced tea and to wash my face. It was my mother's face I saw in the rest room mirror, pale, swollen eyes, crimson-rimmed with weeping. I pinched my cheeks, for a little color in them, but that only gave me the appearance of sunburn.
Looking in the mirror over the sink I blew my nose and chucked the damp towel into the bin. The bruise on my arm was coming up, and I ran cold water over it to try to settle the swelling and rubbed the sore place on my back. There were wet towels scattered around the sink and floor, as if a wind had come up unexpectedly, and I resisted the urge to pick them up, to make the place look tidy. I am not responsible, I told myself, and pushed back out into the restaurant. At the counter, I was relieved to find my voice still worked; the words didn't come out ragged or weepy. I didn't shout. The girl just looked beyond me, into the glad face of the next customer, while slipping a lid on my cup. The counter was 4 P.M. busy, and I walked back to the door looking at no one's face, eyes on the third button or lower. It felt good to get out of the cool, the outside air like breathing pure heat into my raw lungs.
I remember the pistol, hard and cold, like a rough cut of meat on the table between us. It was blood and potential blood, on the knife's edge of us. I wondered for an absurd moment, watching your hard face, whether the gun could be cooked. Could I season and sear it in the skillet and then simmer it a while in wine and garlic, some sliced onions softening alongside it like tears. Would it be tasty, taste like danger, best taken very rare?
As simple as breathing in and out, my life is all pushing away and pulling together, like a melange of beaten eggs. The yolks streak the white with color. I watch the eggs cooking, smell the quick bitter of burning butter in the pan. I am downstairs, standing on the stool. I have picked the slivers of eggshell out of the bowl with my stubby girl's fingers, and I am leaning out over the stove, my sleeves dangling in the flame, the burners turned up way too high. Upstairs my parents sleep. As I passed their door on the way to the stairs, I could hear her breathing, her breath wheezing out her open mouth, push, pull, as if it were hard work. Beside her, he sleeps on in silence, the sleep of the dead.
I have been waiting a long time for something to happen, years, for something to break apart in my life. I am a snake waiting to shed this itchy skin, to feel the new skin coming up underneath, fresh and damp and slick as oil and comfortable. The break is frightening and good, but I can't help wondering how I will pick up the skein of my life, find its thread again. I lost it years ago, when we first came south, and living for me was new.
I remember this road with you, the gray ribbon of road, outlined by the yellow-dust shoulders. It was April, and the bluebonnets were sprinkled in the rough scrub of the median.
We were fighting, and you slowed way down, pulling over onto the shoulder to open the door and let me out. You can walk, you tell me angrily. I am shouting, Don't, Don't, pushing you away. You don't stop, only lean across, dipping the truck onto the grass as you lean across my lap to pull the handle, bounce the door wide. Get out, then, get out and a hand on my hip, then my shoulder, tipping my face out the door, my legs tangled in the seat belt and barely holding. I can see the ground blurred below the truck, hear the wheels on the gravel, running fast, irregular with the tilt of the wheel in your hand, the rage of wind, one hand pushing the door away from my face, the other defending the buckle that holds me. My hand finds your arm at last, and I knot my fingers into your sleeve. You are pushing, Get out, Get out. I can feel the muscles working in your arm. Unexpectedly you relent, pull me back into the unsafety of the truck, allow the door to swing shut. It closes out the sound of the wind, of the tires on the road, the wail of the car horns as you bob back into traffic. I ride on, sobbing, and you turn up the radio, as if nothing were happening. But the unwinking wide eye of this sky is my witness.
Now that we are separated, I can see you with new eyes. The look of you is renewed, even tempts me, as you slip into our conversation unfamiliar names and stories, living a life I do not. I look across the restaurant table at you and wonder if we could. Then we turn the corner again, then your mouth makes that familiar line, your words are sudden, an echo of some half-remembered event, I get a flash of a raised fist or voice, and you are you again.
When we are through you take the check and pay it, and you walk me to my car. You ask a little sorrowfully and, I cannot help judging, insincerely, When can I see you? I want to come home.
Later. I'm not ready, I tell you. I know it is a lie. How can I ever be ready? The touch of your hand on my face, your brief kiss against my cheek move me. I am thirsty for you. The wedding band I wore those few years leaves a bare spot on my finger, a blank band of flesh. I find myself fiddling with the ring that isn't there, pushing my thumb against the pale place where its rim would meet my finger, as if the ring were subsumed into that raw flesh. The ring is put away in a drawer in my bedroom, in the bowl of spare buttons and earrings without mates. Where is your ring? you want to know.
I remember the look of you first fresh in the kitchen of my mother's house, the sunlight coming in the back window and spilling yellow light over the counter and off onto the floor. I remember your first urgent kiss, the new flavor of you, the feeling of your hands on me. And when we say good-bye at the restaurant, I feel some echo of that in the brief pass of your cheek against mine, in the touch of your dry lips on my face, and I cannot help but turn away.
In truth, I think I am looking for my life lived afresh, a first look at the clutter of green leaves against the crisp blue; a first look at you; the flavor of sweet, chilly snow; the feeling of the breeze on my face; and the sound of locusts on an August afternoon, wheezing their song in the bluestem; the smell of bread baking, of you, of you.
Who can say how things happen. People make things up, they forget; events unspun and spun again take a different shape but time, like yarn, has memory, under the new pattern the old shape is still kinked into the threads. If we were to unravel this skein it would be twisted into yet a third pattern, old and new both. But we won't pull it loose. We are looking forward, always forward, as if time traveled some long and singular line. This is a simple story, with the usual events marked out and explained in the usual way. You can pick and choose.
Use a ruler to draw a line precisely 9.5 inches long on your paper. Rub the Pink Pearl eraser on the page if you make a mistake and brush away the rubbings of it with the edge of your hand. Using the ruler, make a hash mark every quarter-inch from beginning to end. A hash mark looks like "/." These are the years. Turn your paper ninety degrees, so you can write perpendicular to the line:
At zero: Birth.
At 4 ½ inches: Left home.
At 4 ¾ inches: Marriage.
At 6 ¼ inches make a black x.
Fill in the other marks with labels like: Made straight A's. Learned to swim. Lost virginity. Baked first cake. Broke arm falling down stairs. Wrecked car.
It doesn't matter, generally, in what order these events appear, as long as some sense of appropriate age is maintained. As, for instance, one generally would not lose one's virginity at age six, although it has been known to happen.
Isn't living, after all, the accumulation of events, stacked one on another, hoping to have the big stuff at the bottom so that when you get to something outsized, a little bigger or grander than usual, there is the base on which to balance it not too precariously?
The point is, of course, to bring life into the knowable, to make it happen in an orderly and unsurprising way, to put a handle on it and carry it away. Think of it: If you had to carry those years, in one manic and multicolored ball, the experiences piled one on another like so many dirty plates on a waitress's arm; it is smooth on no sides and clattering and clawing with sounds and smells and grief and pleasure.
Ah, but on paper, it seems very slim, as flat as a leaf and foldable. All tidily explained and documented.
Please tear the page out of your notebook and carefully, matching the corners, fold it in half. Fold it again. And again, until it fits into the palm of your hand. Push the square of paper into your jeans pocket and forget about it. Pile the pants with the other laundry and on Saturday morning carry the darks back to the washer and wash them on lukewarm. Use plenty of soap. If you are lucky the water will wash away all the words, will wear away at the paper itself, smear the blue lines into indifferent color, and fossilize its folds. If you are lucky when you peel apart the leaves you will not be able to read a line.
The problem with our time line is that it is a line: a single unbroken spell that does not allow for twists or angles, the helix of happenstance, the geometry of love. I have taken a turning from the line, at last, under my own power. I have the urge to go further, to ditch the car, to hike off into the hills with my bag slung over my back, but what is there that is not here?
Of course, this isn't entirely my fault. We have to take into account some other people and events. Even laying aside the major players, who is to say what would have happened if some seemingly incidental thing had turned another way. If a book I read in the library when I was eight had been checked out by someone else. If a boy in my grade-school class had been a little quicker to get into the lunch line. If a store in my hometown had been running a sale on spring fabrics, lavender and pink. If I had not burned the toast yesterday. Or bigger things: If my father had lived. If my mother were happy. If you had married your high school sweetheart or joined the Marines.
In truth I can barely keep track of these things. It is the stories that distract me. I cannot resist speculating on things, from the contents of the paper sack you bring into my house, to the fate of the children who wait outside the grocery store with a box of puppies.
Still, all of these things are insignificant in comparison with you. They are the subsets of you; you are huge. You are like the autumn-white sunlight that falls hard on the porch of our home where I stand waiting for you. The big old red oak shades the front yard, and the afternoon light breaks through its branches in a quavering pattern, bright and dark, its inconstant and ever-moving boundaries restlessly fluttering with the wind. I can stand on the porch waiting for you, but each bit of light filtered between the leaves is like a ray through a magnifier: Its heat burns.CHAPTER 2
I am the child of my mother; my father is long dead. He worked outside, in the fields or out back in the barn. He passed through only for meals, at night or in the erratic daylight of winter. Sometimes late in the afternoon or after supper I'd find him sleeping on the couch, a newspaper across his lap, and his delicate stocking feet crossed. He sleeps with his arms across his body like a hug, and his face tilted toward the back of the couch, turned away from us, diffident, leaving a vulnerable slice of his tanned neck between the rumpled collar of his shirt and his irregular hairline, heedless of danger. He had a spot on the back of his neck, a brown smudge like a thumbprint that I liked to kiss. In the old photograph of their wedding his face was angled to the side, looking at something just out of the frame. It was as if he couldn't keep his mind on what was really happening, and I think that was how he lived, slightly out of frame and not entirely true.
Hush, my mother says, don't wake him, and we tiptoe through the chilly room on the way to her warm kitchen.
I was scarcely tall enough to reach the countertop when she was teaching me to cook. She let me scrape the side of the mixer bowl with a spatula or stir her bubbling gravy. I chopped onions, for her eyes were too delicate, and I had a stool near the pantry door to clamber up on and press against her at the stove. She dipped one lickable finger into the cake batter as the beater patterned it with swirls. I pressed the sharp-edged circle of a biscuit cutter into her rolled dough. We were conspiratorial, tucked away in the small kitchen, the winter light coming in slanty and white as the sun set early across the fields. I remember breathing the steam off the gravy and thinking it was her perfume, redolent with flavor and the temperature of her warm lap against the cold night.
Excerpted from The Geometry of Love by Joan Fay Cuccio. Copyright © 1977 Joan Fay Cuccio. Excerpted by permission of The Permanent Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.