Five Stories, by Diane Williams

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Party Dog, by Hilary Pecis © The artist. Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles

[Fiction]

Five Stories

Adjust

can this be i?

Actually, I had walked into the hallway and disappeared into the bedroom briefly. Several of them danced and I heard Vida say about me, “He disappeared into the backyard.”

She, Vida—once went everywhere with me, in the air, on foot, by car and train, and still I can’t now really claim her as a true friend. So, Vida was once my hope that everything in my life that was bad or sad would end.

Today I had set out deluxe vegetables—the spinach ring that Les loves, alongside a big cheese-egg float. And I enjoy washing the greens clear of their colonies of organisms, scanning the wrinkles and the cracks for their impurities over and over again.

Ted prodded the dessert, said he was tired, and griped about my squash that was too spicy.

“I’ll tell you what let’s do,” I said.

Then Polly arrived angry. “Are there two Gulfs by any chance? You said to go five blocks beyond the station!”

I forgot about Ted. I was glad of Alice’s presence. I adore Alice and I hooked my hand around her elbow.

I guess I expect too much goodwill, especially from Alice, deference and enamoredness. There it is!—what I want from Alice, who had just found a framed photograph of my father.

“I liked him, but he didn’t like me,” I said. “Do I look like him around the eyes? I don’t have the pointed chin.”

But Alice cold-shouldered my father in order to put a cheese cone on her plate and then other people followed her around and I know she causes sexual excitement.

Oh, eat, drink, and explore. I love those ideas.

My thought was—if I left the house now, I could return to my party at six.

I did. I took a walk around the block—got a cheap cocktail—where I could also get a quick bite in a shushed atmosphere.

But what if I could have gone anywhere?

I would go to Japan probably. I’d like to go into one of those Japanese temples or estates to get a feeling of the emptiness of the rooms. Why emptiness?

I am saying empty—why do I say empty?—because of how I grew up inside of clutter.

Very often a room is a rectangular space—corners and juts. When getting into a room like that with all that clutter—the shape of the room just falls away.

So I wonder if I’d feel any better in an empty room—if the shape of the room had a strong presence . . . yet it was cordial.

i fixed my hair

My tactic last night to secure my husband’s fellow feeling might have been a touch too simplistic. But it should be enough, no more required before sleep.

I inclined toward Howard and—done!—I kissed him on the mouth!

And in the morning, I pinned a beautiful and well-made cloth flower clip over one ear to cheer myself up, because in my dream I had neglected a dying child while it felt like eons were passing.

If I really face facts, though, I find most of my solace in the spirit of my hair.

It is in a half-up, fishtail braid these days.

Then after my shift at the mill—where I am running around like a sacred rabbit usually. Typo! Sorry. Scared rabbit usually!—I became much less dynamic.

I told my husband to—“wrap it up!”—once supper was over, and flexed my fingers with a flourish in the direction of the dirtied tableware, to make of my command a little joke.

For some odd reason I went into the yard and tripped badly on a stepping-stone. I fell into the privet hedge and had to shove at the hedge to boost myself up and away from it.

But I am not frail. Even when I was a girl I did physical work beyond my strength.

Inside the house, our son, Reggie, had the most peachy expression of appreciation and innocence on his face, because something of that tradition survives here.

Except that Howard said, “I found a box of kitchen matches in the trash. You could have burned the whole house down.”

In our bedroom, on the soft mattress, I was drowsy, yet newly aware that some foreign material was ground into my abraded skin, so I got up and gently washed my arm. Did not disturb the dressing for twenty-four hours, maintained cold treatment for my bruise.

And for my family? Easy does it, so that it won’t blow up in my face.

I make suggestions—I’ll need more of these—I will discuss questions, bake my cookies in batches—all while I am so certain about so many things.

for example, the son

What are they going to do now, folks? The most necessary step?

The father had a grip on the boy’s wrist near the lilac bush, which the mother sat beside, and the mother said, “There isn’t time for that, you know, now. I have to go get my tooth implant.”

The boy sprang loose from his father and then up an incline and the father ran after and held on, as the child plunged about.

Don’t spit on your mother! Never spit on her. You have to say you are sorry to your mother!

The boy strongly has a sense he should be elsewhere, whereas the mother likes to believe she is a practical young woman and she is by all appearances placid. The father attempts to be mighty in battle.

And that boy, Derek Hood, is now a man. Born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, he still lives there. Hood is both distinguished and cruel and has exerted himself to relieve poverty and sickness.

One stormy evening his young son says, “It’s raining!” The boy’s mother says, “No, it’s not.”

“But,” the boy insists, “I hear the di di di di di di di di!

“I don’t hear it either,” his father says.

He never found anyone as difficult to hit as that little boy.

fling

This is snug enough and the warm day allows for sitting outside, and she holds a flower stalk, a featherbell, and has tried forever not to be an ass, tried.

What about him? He’s got a slip of paper in his hand while birds go by demonstrating all manner of flying styles—long, strong, provoking strokes, or agitated.

“That goose is in pain, too!” the old woman says. “It must hurt it to fly like that and it sounds as if it’s sick. It’s hoarse!”

The old man’s limbs don’t hurt that much. Hers hurt. Her left foot, both knees. It’s the heel of her left foot. Her left hand is at issue, naturally, under these circumstances, yes, and typically.

And it is not to her advantage that she often sleeps with her hands held up above her head, positioned as if for the Highland Fling.

The panicle on her lap—it’s finished—has flattened.

And the elderly man and woman will yield to a superior force, too—but in a good way?—sometime soon.

For now, they budge a bit—and the woman thinks, I am going to go inside and set the oven at four hundred and fifty and start the carrots.

The sparrow near the bent toe of her shoe takes off toward a tree as she rises from her lawn chair, and she wonders aloud, “How does he know I can’t chase up there after him?”

And the old man? He has had a wise idea, too—which for him provides an intermission of sorts, and so . . . But as it happens he is napping when a small boy approaches and causes the woman to feel childish fear. “What did you say?” she asks the child.

“I want to show you something!” the little boy keeps saying. “I want to show you show you something!” and the boy is supposed to turn up in the nick of time and be much more intelligible, but this old woman just can’t make him out.

In the meantime, we can look around at where they all are, where centuries ago, executions and floggings took place.

But this is also where this mister and the missus once stood and danced together—walk, walk, walk, and step hold—and there are the starry, late blooming flowers, and the shadblow and a birch, and a shrubbery garden border.

The little boy has unknown ambitions and has just departed and the old woman cranks her head sideways, skyward.

And she doesn’t wonder to what or to whom she says?—Bring down a big owl or let me see a hawk down here so I can scare the hell out of him too!

And this is almost the whole story I wanted to tell you—how an old wife left the shore—but she doesn’t die yet, a minute or so after midday, just after saying, “I’ll go in now . . . ”

She lingers—although she hardly lingers at all. She is interested to see if she will make a spectacle of herself, or if she can possibly be very smart about it, or better yet—dainty.

one woman and five men

She has said, “I don’t make friends easily with men. I don’t really like the trouble of them. I like the idea of men.”

And yet, she has developed two effective modes of operating: survey the other’s body, then stealthily approach, or lie still at first.

And her life has been one crowded calendar.

But look what we have here—nobody in a bed and instead a ramble in progress, as Mr. Rollo Ryder conducts the woman on a moderate climb. And at the zenith—they both felt weaker, as if they had received a rough physical blow.

No!—not on account of their light physical exertions.

What caused the offense? It was the severe sight, as they looked out from the promontory, of rock formations with minimal vegetation.

And the wallop, of course, was nothing personal, was well meant and all that.

And this incident has unreasonably increased the woman’s dislike for Mr. Ryder, even though once, in his company, she did feel thoroughly and delightfully stretched.

But from where they stood that day, apparently, the bright light revealed pockmarks in the rock, the face of which was bony, freckled, pallid.

But supposing nothing more happens and that this is how the story sullenly ends.

So unfair—because just to the north lies a mountain range where—as it is told in another tale about this woman—she gets to keep company with a mountain god in the form of a dog—who possesses patience, intelligence, and gentleness.