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|Say It Three Times #1|
|Books - Say It Three Times|
|Written by Terri Bruce|
|Saturday, 17 December 2011 15:32|
Page 1 of 3
All that we are is the result of what we have thought
The house is quiet. The air is still. The sun is new, its light weak and soft. It hardly penetrates into the room. Everything looks gray and dim. The room. The furniture. The carpet. It is all lifeless and pale. In the dark it was comforting and familiar. An old friend, drawn from memory. In the light of day it looks monstrous and strange. Old. Faded. Worn and dusty. This is not how I remember it. This is not how it is supposed to be.
I stare at the wall. There are shadows there. Shadows from the trees outside. I watch them dance. I cannot hear the wind, but the trees are shaking. It must be sunny and breezy out.
Memories dance in time to the shadows. Out of time and out of place. Waxing the Buick on a crisp fall day. Shoveling snow after the blizzard of ’78. Painting the house in the sweltering summer sun. These are my roses in December. They have become playing cards, subject to the luck of the draw. Where have my high school years gone? My first date? My parent’s golden wedding anniversary? Burnt up in a fire or swept away in a flood. I shuffle the deck. I deal a new hand. Yesterday drifts into view.
I remember talking to Juan at the security desk. We talked about the weather. He said it would be hot. I agreed, said it would be a scorcher. We were both right.
I expect it will be hot again today.
I listen to the even breathing of the woman beside me. Julia lies on her side, curled into a sort of ball. Her knees are drawn up towards her chin. The early morning sunlight frames her. It makes her face glow. In the golden haze she looks younger. She is a younger, better version of herself. The light tints her hair’s faded color. Sleep puffs up her face, filling out the craters and crevasses, rebuilding the sunken valleys of her cheeks, hiding the crow’s feet and worry lines. The tension so often present in her face of late has faded. There is a hint of a smile around her mouth.
Without a sound, I heave myself out of bed. This is when I leave. When she is like this. When she is sleeping. When she is frozen in time. It is better this way. I can keep this last, best version of her safe. Safe in my memory.
I collect my clothes and pad down the hall to the bathroom. Getting dressed has become a sacrament. The mirror reflects and it is good. Socks sliding up—dark against white skin. Undershirt rolling down—solid white. Dress shirt shrugging on—long and loose. Small, soft, round buttons winking in and out. Pants slithering up and around. Twinkling metal zipper. Slippery damn tie. But never a snake now. Never a noose. Never choking, grasping hands. Only a tie. In the mirror I see myself as I am. And this is religion.
Before, dressing was narrative. I would put on the uniform. Same movements. Same feelings. Sliding, slithering, rolling, shrugging. But the mirror would editorialize. In the glass I would see a garbage man. A janitor. A mechanic. That uniform would creep over my skin. And I would wonder why I did not fix something, clean something, repair something.
I move silently through the house. Everything is tight. Confined. Suppressed. Shrouded. The light is tinged with gray. It is heavy and thick. Damp and chilly. It is cold soup. I move through it gathering my lunch, my briefcase, my car keys. Then I stand in readiness before the front door. There is always a moment of fear as I reach for the knob. My chest tightens, my breath catches, my palms sweat. Then the door opens, I step through, and the world is as it should be.
I stand outside, on the front step, assessing the day. As expected, there is sun and wind. A cool breeze ruffles the leaves on the trees. Large white clouds race across the brilliant blue of the sky. This is what I expected. This is how it is supposed to be.
I move towards the driveway, keys in hand. The car is there. It is old and big and I feel like a caricature. Old, retired cop driving a big, old car.
The landscape from home to office tells a story. A story of cities. Of how they decay and rot. Of how they spread and infect. This small side-street gradually joins larger streets. The modest-sized houses fade into smaller, more tightly packed houses and then into apartments. The manicured lawns dotted with mature hardwoods give way to slim, young trees planted in the sidewalks and then the flat black groundscape of an ancient asphalt jungle. The city eats and, someday, it will eat these pretty lawns and modest houses and sturdy trees. And it will crap blacktop and chain link fences.
I do not look at the apartments as I drive. They are run down. To look at them is to remember. To remember what it smells like inside—urine and trash and mildew. To remember what it feels like to climb flight after flight of stairs—sweat dripping, lungs gulping, sides heaving, muscles burning. To remember what it sounds like to sneak in the dark—thundering heartbeat, rustling murk, pounding footsteps. To remember what it is like to see what lives inside—bruises, black eyes, pools of blood, piles of trash, scrawny children, fat rats. I stare straight ahead until the road widens into five lanes.
The apartments fade into towers of glass and steel. The car heats up and I run a finger around my collar. I undo the top button as I feel sweat trickle down the back of my neck. Traffic has stopped moving and now there is no breeze.
I study the office buildings. I look for the story they tell. Clean. Tall. Straight. They tower over the freeway. They tower over the cars. They tower over me. The light bounces off of them. Reflecting, refracting, ricocheting. It alternately dazzles and burns. My eyes climb upward. They follow the lines until the light blinds me. The buildings disappear into the sun.
We are moving again. The road rises. It has become a stilted snake. Winding and slithering between the buildings, undulating from the reflected heat. It floats above the city. Floats above the dirt and trash below. We are high in the air, safe and protected. There are no rats here. No trash. No bruises. No filth. There is only the sun and the sky and the buildings.
In front of me there is a mini-van. There are children in the back. A girl in pigtails. She wears a big smile. She is hitting another, smaller, child in the head with a teddy bear. I cannot see if this other child is a boy or a girl. The smaller child keeps trying to grab the bear, but the girl pulls it away with a laugh. The parents stare straight ahead. I cannot tell if the children are playing or fighting. I cannot tell if the parents are ignoring the children or do not hear them.
I let my thoughts drift back to Julia. I let myself remember how she looked this morning in the sunlight. Maybe I will go home early tonight. I will come home before she is asleep. Maybe I will bring her flowers. I have not done that in a long time.
My exit comes up and I ease out of the gridlock. I descend into the heart of the city. Here the city is clean and well-kept. The buildings are tall. The streets are clean. There are coffee shops with awnings and wrought-iron tables outside. There are trees. The sidewalks are made of evenly laid bricks. There are fountains and flowers in window boxes and public squares with statues of long dead generals. Sometimes there are even people here, too. Quiet, clean, well-dressed, hurrying people. In the early morning, the city glistens with dew. It looks slightly damp, as if freshly scrubbed.
I put on my blinker. I turn into the underground parking garage. Twenty stories of pink granite and green-blue glass stand above it. My office is in there. High in the air, rising above it all. My office is not what is expected of a retired cop. It is not stereotypical. It is not in a basement. It is not dark. It does not exude seediness and desperation. It is not cheap.
If you want the stereotype, visit the security consultants and private detectives down on The Row. Their offices form a line down Washington Street. It is a grubby part of town. That is where used up cops go to die. Dirty cops drummed out of the force. Wash-outs who could not cut it. Retired cops whose expensive habits cannot be supported by a pension. Many of my former colleagues have their offices down there. They are the ones who handle the dirty jobs. To those currently on the force it is “Washed-Up Row.” It is a joke. They laugh about it. They laugh at it. They laugh at it because they are afraid of it. They are afraid of what they might become.
Here, there are big windows. It is bright and sunny. It is quiet and restful. A man can think here. A man be still. There is no suspense. There is no drama. I do not get the cashmere and caviar set. I do not get distraught billionaires looking for their kidnapped baby girl. I do not mix with international fences. I do not watch people through binoculars. I do not sneak and skulk and spy. Those are dirty jobs. The type I toss to old acquaintances on The Row. That is the type of work they like. They will tail your husband to see if he is cheating. They will look for your runaway teenager. They will find your birth mother.
I take the easy jobs. The clean jobs. I track down invitees for family reunions. I re-unite people and things. I complete collections, finding that last perfect rare book, commemorative plate, Louis XIV desk. I track down people who do not know the IRS owes them money. The kind of warm, tingly jobs that end when the workday ends.