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April 22, 2024

Time Traveler 18

By Sand Pilarski

The more I weep, the more I am afflicted,
the more my heart may not desire it,
have I not, when all is said,
to go to the Land of the Mystery?
Here on earth our hearts say:
'Oh my friends, would that we were immortal,
oh friends, where is the land in which one does not die?

Nahuatl poem

He didn't call the next day, or the next, or the next. At first I was feeling patient, knowing how much shock I felt when I found out the distance between our ages, but then I started to ache, realizing that perhaps my very years were what enabled me to get past the wretched truth (that and his professions of unshakable love, damn him) -- maybe he was just too young to be able to accommodate the idea. When I was twenty-six, the thought of a lover eighteen years my senior would have been unfathomable. Yet by the time I was thirty-five, something in my world view had changed, and I was quite delighted to play politics and patty-cakes with Moersgard, who was fifty-eight.

On Thursday, almost a whole week later, I finally found a message on my telephone's answering machine. "Hi," he said, "I just wanted to let you know I'm still alive. In case you wondered if I was. I've just been really busy. I'll give you a call back this weekend, maybe we can get together or something."

Sitting with my finger on the replay button, I must have listened to that message twenty times, trying to discern any important meaning to it. The words sounded like a stranger had stolen Valentine's fine voice and tried to make him sound like some kind of a stupe. I called his number and got only an answering machine (phone tag, they call it), and left a message with my voice set to 'I'm nice, I'm happy, how are you, you jerkweed?' "Valentine, this is Augusta. I was glad to hear your message. I also hope that we can get together sometime."

And then I decided to clean my kitchen as an act of purgation, or was it an act of desperation?

There were seven drawers in the kitchen, with a goodly number of cabinets. They were all full. I think I tend to be a squirrel about kitchen things, tucking implements away as though I would ever run out. My mother's kitchen (that she inherited from my father's mother) was larger, but had far less storage space; though she did have an article of furniture that was called a 'dry sink' for storage of the good dishes and table linens.

En aquellos dias ... zhili bili Dyed y Baba ... once upon a time ... there was a kitchen in which the use for every implement was known, and every implement was of regular use.

The wide apron of the sink was sloped and ridged for a purpose: that of draining dishes and garden produce. There were no automatic dishwashers. Plates used were washed manually, and dried with dishtowels. (This is not to say that people don't wash dishes by hand now; however, no new house is sold without a dishwasher included in the kitchen.) That a sink needed to be a washing area for vegetables was a given -- who would not want some vegetables now and then, and where would you get them except from your own garden soil, unless you were willing to pay a high price for tasteless store-bought things?

In my mother's kitchen, there was a silverware drawer, for forks, knives, and serving spoons (teaspoons being kept in a bowl at the back of the kitchen table for quick and easy access); in the same drawer were kitchen string and a tea-ball of tarnished silver, which my mother would not use because she would not polish the tarnish off the silver, and the unsightly patina disgusted her. (The only reason it was kept was because of its status of precious metal.) In another drawer were the meat fork, the big knives (two), a tenderizer -- that was a hammer with ridges to subdue tough cuts of meat -- two ladles, one deep for soups, one shallow for dumplings or stews, a stainless steel spatula, two wooden spoons, and a pastry blender, a red-handled creature with six strong wires bent to an arch -- the only real tool for making pie crusts.

The rolling pin, taking up too much room, was relegated to the pantry, in which also hung the cast iron skillets, (one medium, one large) while the pie plates, four in all, lived on a shelf beside the flour and the shortening. In the kitchen there was a shelf for glasses and mugs, a shelf for plates and bowls, and a shelf for the less often used mixing bowls. In the other cabinet, there was room only for serving dishes, pots and pans, and on the very topmost shelf, the cups and saucers nobody used unless there was company due.

The stove I remember first was a gas stove, with a wood-burning side to the left for when you needed to heat the kitchen or when the propane gas ran out. There was a refrigerator, we did have that. And a table with four chairs, in case there was a guest. And that was it, except for the little rag rugs in front of stove and sink to catch drips.

The First Grandmother had only an arrow and a bow. If she wanted to make dinner, the arrow had to count, as this was all she possessed. She would shoot accurately into the heart of her game, and clean the arrow and hang it in its place of honor on the evergreen tree while she roasted the rabbit, the venison, the pheasant on a stick over the fire. The next Grandmother had a bow and three arrows, and a pot to cook the game in. Then came Third Grandmother, and she had a pot for cooking, a bow and seven arrows, and a fork. Fourth Grandmother made the Grandfather build a hearth, and beside the hearth she kept all those things from her grandmothers, and a good knife beside, so that she could skin more game and make a tent to shelter them from the wind. Fifth Grandmother, who inherited such wealth and a fine home, made plates to eat from so that the floor would not attract ants, for they now slept where they ate. But the plates were heavy from the food, and so she made the Grandfather build a table, and chairs to sit at the table. Now-Grandmother has all these things plus a microwave, a rice cooker, food processor, a coffee-maker, a microwave oven, an electric mixer, two sets of dishes and silverware, a griddle, an indoor barbecue grill, a four-slice toaster, a blender, and two dicers, as well as an electric teapot, an infestation of plastic storage containers, and a rotisserie oven for cooking chickens.

Now-Grandmother has grown fat as a tick from never leaving the kitchen to hunt, moving from her chair only when the hired help comes to clean these many possessions, and all that is lost is First Grandmother's perfect aim ... Tell me, if Now-Grandmother cannot find someone to accept all these burdens, how will she ever make it to the Other World carrying them?

After rummaging through drawers cluttered and tangled with stainless steel and nylon and wooden and rubber spatulas, stirrers, basters, meat thermometers, and so many artifacts, I sat at my kitchen table and looked at all the open, crowded drawers and thought about my life. What do I actually need, I asked myself. Why do I need place settings of silverware for sixteen when there is only me, and occasionally a guest or two? I don't have parties in this tiny house, I don't have a family to invite over, why are they there? Why do I have two full sets of knives in the knife drawer? I need a paring knife, a sharp knife, and a chopping knife for watermelon -- what else? How many accoutrements and appliances do I need for a single woman?

A single woman likely to live alone for the rest of her life. Abruptly I wearied of cleaning, of remembering, of speculating. I crossed my arms on the table and put my head on them, gazing at the ubiquitous fog. Perhaps cluttered kitchen drawers are a psychological barrier against the alternative: a fork, a knife, a spoon, and a bowl; a little cutting board and tiny pots and pans, symbols of a solitary, and cursedly lonely life.

Valentine Teshenko called me late Saturday afternoon and asked me if I wanted to see a movie with him. A movie. Just the thing, sit for two hours in the dark and not have to talk to each other, not have to look at each other. What would we see? A love story? That's sure to help. Adventure? Maybe I could sublimate all that desire sitting in my heart by watching people blow things up and die. A comedy, then, when nothing seems very amusing? "I hate movie theaters," I told him. "Sticky floors, too loud, sorry." And what's more, I didn't want to have to sit beside him and wonder what on earth he was thinking. What on earth was he thinking? "Why a movie, was there one in particular you were interested in seeing?"

"No, not really. I just thought that might be a ... nice way to get together, that's all."

"You're still struggling with this, aren't you?" I said.

"Are you saying that you're not?" he demanded angrily. "I saw the look in your eyes when I asked you how old you were. It bothers you, too, Augusta. You have to have thought it out. Damn it! You were taking your first college courses a few weeks before I was even born. You must have graduated while I was still trying to figure out how to count my goddamn toes."

"Don't forget the one: 'I'm old enough to be your mother' while you're at it." I snarled back.

"Augusta," his voice quiet again, "you're a year older than my mother."

Never before in my life did I so royally get my big mouth shut like that.

"Did you hang up on me?"

"No," I sighed resignedly.

"Listen," he said, "about the symphony next weekend ... my parents and sister are coming up hear us play, so ---"

"So I should stay away or visit friends, is that what you want?" my anger flared again.

"I didn't say that! But afterwards, I just can't -- I won't be able to -- I know after the last symphony, you and I --"

"I remember quite well what we did after the last symphony, Valentine, and don't worry, I didn't expect that would happen this time. Maybe we can get together for lunch sometime in the next reincarnation."

"Do you think you could let me finish a god-damned sentence?" he shouted.

"Go ahead," I gritted through my teeth. "Have the last word. What's it going to be, 'whoops, gotta go, my dog's on fire' or the ever-popular 'don't let the door hit ya on the ass on your way out'?"

"Goodbye," he said.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-11-14
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