Friday, December 26, 2008

Ask Clarissa

I have agreed to read Anna Karenina during my Christmas break. Lauren recommended it. Abigail, too. I am not a huge fan of fiction. I am not a fan at all. But Abigail says Anna Karenina is not what anyone could rightly call fiction. There is nothing of pretense about it.

But it’s a novel, I said.

And she said, it’s a commentary on family dynamics. On relationships. On the human condition. What is imaginary about that??

It’s actually her copy I packed in my suitcase when I drove home to Bakersfield. There are notes in the margins. In different shades of ink. Abigail says she learns something new every time she reads it.

Abigail has asked Lauren and I to rent rooms from her. I hardly know what to think. Her house is enormous. She has a housekeeper who has little jars of capers and shallots and saffron threads in the pantry. And the pantry is a room, did I mention that? She has gardeners and a man she pays to drive her around. Her house is bigger than the three houses I grew up in all put together.

Lauren is warming up to the idea. She says Abigail is waking up after years of reclusivity. She is lonely. She likes our company.

I don’t know. The room I’d have is something out of a magazine photo shoot. And Esperanza is an awesome cook. There’s just something about pretending I fit into that life that irks me. Lauren says it is no different than her having lived in a dorm with a shared bathroom the last year and a half. You don’t stop being who you are just because you change from sleeping on Kmart sheets to Egyptian cotton.

I am not sure she is right about that. And that’s what’s bothering me. Is she right? Who is not changed by their environment? Name someone.

I am not saying I would change for the worse if I lived in a house like that and had imported truffles tossed into my omelets. I am just saying I would change. And that has to be considered. Tell me I am wrong. . . If you can.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Love, Lauren

Hey, Raul:

Wish I could see you before you head home to Mexico for Christmas. Did you get the package I sent you? Check your mailbox before you go. In fact, take it with you on the plane to Guadalajara. A good book on a long plane ride is a must.

Remember when I told you the guy from the publishing house said he would get back to me by Christmas? Well, he called yesterday and said he wants to talk about a contract right after the holidays. I called my dad as soon as we hung up. The first thing he said was that he found a literary agent for me and that I should let “this gal shop the diary around to see who else is interested.” Exact words. I told him I really wasn’t looking for like, the sweetest deal or anything. I am donating all the proceeds anyway. He said it’s not about who pays the most for Mercy’s diary, it’s about who wants to pay the most for it. The company that invests the most into the diary will treat the whole project with the most care and attention. I suppose he is right. The publishing guy isn’t going to like this, though. He asked me if anyone else was looking at the diary and did I have an agent. I said no to both questions just a week ago. Dad told me the guy asked both of those questions because he assumed one or both were probably true.

Guess what? Abigail has asked Clarissa and I to move in with her. Now that the diary is finished I only go over there once a week or so and she misses my company. The last few times I’ve brought Clarissa with me. I knew Abigail and Clarissa would hit it off. Abigail is spectacularly transparent these days and Clarissa always has been. Anyway, she has all these empty bedrooms and she’s only a few miles from campus. She said if it would make us feel better she’d charge us a nominal rent. Clarissa told me she’s not sure she wants to give up eating raw ramen noodles and sharing a sink with people who don’t chase away their toothpaste spit. But then she said, “Seriously, Lars. I need to think about it.” I know what she means. Abigail has a lovely home and employs a phenomenal cook but her house is a sad place. It’s like the walls themselves are in a constant state of mourning. I think Abigail can see that. It is no doubt the reason she has asked us to join her there. What do you think?

Can’t wait to see you at Cole’s New Year’s party. Safe journey, Raul. Merry Christmas!
Love, Lauren

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mercy's Quill

From Mercy's book of poem and stories

16 December, 1691

Icy blast of Winter's breath
Furious, bold, unwelcome Guest

Slips inside despite the shutters
Flecks of ice, her raucous Brothers

Alight on hearth to melt and glisten
Watch them now. Stop and listen

Winter noticed has but one voice
When she whispers we hear no noise

When gentle flakes kiss the ground
No homage is paid; She makes no sound

Only when she wails a greeting
Is interest gained; a desperate meeting.

~ Mercy Hayworth

Friday, December 12, 2008

In the Kitchen with Esperanza

There used to be Christmas parties in this house - back when Miss Abigail's mother was alive. So I have been told, anyway. I wasn't even born when Miss Abigail's mother died. Miss Abigail herself was just a child.

But sometimes when Miss Abigail allows the past to speak to her, she will tell me how it was in this house when her mother walked the rooms.

And at Christmastime, there were parties. There was music and dancing and games and food. Of course food.

Abigail especially liked the spiced cider her mother had simmering on the stove for hours until the guests arrived. She didn't let my mother make it for her, even though my mother was a better cook than even I am. She liked to get it going. On cold nights, her parents added a little rum to the little glass cups before the cider was poured into them.

Here is how she made it.
  • One gallon of apple cider
  • 5 or 6 whole cinnamon sticks
  • a small handful (a dozen maybe) whole cloves
  • half an orange sliced in circles
  • half an orange sliced in circles
Simmer at a very low heat on the back of the stove for several hours before your guests arrive. The aroma will beckon them inside. It smells heavenly.

Next time I will tell how to make the best Mexican wedding cookies. The best.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Abigail on the Classics

Abigail here. I read in the newspaper this morning that Polaroid will discontinue selling its magical film. By this time next year, it will only be found on e-Bay and in museums and in stuffy old houses like mine.

I was just a teenager when the Polaroid camera came out, late 30s, I think. Of course my father had to have one. We got another one in the 1950s and another in the 60s. The Polaroid camera never failed to mesmerize me. Watching life materialize on that little black square was like watching a memory being tattooed onto my brain. It was like something from another time and place, beamed our way by a friendly but highly advanced life form on another planet. There was nothing else like it.

Few things could be so instantaneous back then. Now everything is that way. Lauren takes all her pictures on a camera that looks just like my old 35mm, but there is a little screen on the back that shows her the image the moment she has taken the shot. If she doesn't like it, she can press a button and it disappears.

I wonder how she knows so quickly which pictures aren't worth keeping. Time has a way of redistributing value. But she is young. . .

I've decided to read The Crucible again. It's been awhile. Reading it always makes me a little grumpy, though. There are so many little things that I don't think are quite right but I can't prove any of it. It's just a gut feeling I have. And really, does it matter? The Crucible is less about the Salem Witch Trials and more about McCarthyism anyway.

Still. Makes me wish we had a few Polaroids of what it was really like to live when Mercy lived. To see what she saw.

I will let you know how grumpy I am this time around. In the meantime, I'd buy up Polaroid film if I were you. . .

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ask Clarissa

Okay. So since my last post that song by Pat Benatar, “Love is a Battlefield,” has been tumbling around in my head practically driving me crazy. I don’t even like that song or that kind of music. But a customer came in the coffee shop the other day, ordered a tall minty mocha and told me he’d read my blog post and asked me what I meant when I said love is a solid, not a space to be filled.

He said that’s like saying love is already there. And he told me he’s not in love with anyone right now and when he was it was like a complicated maze that made him feel like he was grappling for a handhold the whole time. A war zone. Now that he’s not in love he says he’d very much like to feel that there is no empty space to be filled. But he does feel like there is a void, even though he doesn’t want to.

I told him I didn’t think love was the war zone. That had to be something else. Desire. Lust. Greed. Control. Jealousy. Need. Those troubadours of conflict show up in the romantic relationship we call ‘being in love.’ Being in a space. Those are the things create the friction, the sense that there is chaos in the space.

The love I am talking about is not in the space. And yeah, it’s already there. When you climb out of that crazy place that empties and fills, thrills you one minute and haunts you the next, you bump right into it.

And then what? he said. You live happily ever after?

You live, I said.

He took his cup, smiled and told me he’d like to come back in five years and ask me how that little declaration still shapes up for me.

I told him I wouldn’t be in this coffee shop in five years.

He laughed. Gave me a big tip.

I don’t think he understood a word I said.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Love, Lauren

Hey Raul:

Glad to hear you didn’t totally choke on your exam. Didn’t think you would. You should celebrate with flan. Esperanza would totally approve. And I know it’s your favorite.

Well, the guy from the publishing house is coming out to see the diary. He arrives on Friday. I can’t believe how nervous I am about him coming. I already feel like I need to get a talking paper ready to defend Mercy’s every thought and action. Stupid. No one’s diary needs a defense. We’re having the meeting at Abigail’s. I told Abigail I thought her lawyer should be here for the meeting and she asked why. I didn’t have an answer. I just thought he should be there. I texted my dad and asked him what he thought and he called me and said of course a lawyer should be there. My lawyer. I reminded him I don’t have one. He said I’ve always had one. (Oh, BTW, this lawyer I’ve always had is drawing up papers so that Abigail’s gifting of the diary to me will be a legal transaction that will stand up in court in case there are problems later. I know what he means. But still. . .) Anyway, my lawyer is coming to the meeting too. His name is Brent. Not sure if that is his first name or last.

Abigail had to be coaxed into being at the meeting. She is so detached from the diary now. I don’t think I will ever be. Not even when I give it to a museum, which I will do. I don’t know how she can be that aloof but perhaps that is her coping mechanism for letting go of all those years of regret. Distance. Graham has no interest in being there, thank God. There’s no reason why he should. But he’s asked more than a couple questions about the diary. I think he can sense it’s a book that forces you to confront your choices. I am not sure what to make of Graham. He seems so sad. Esperanza said he’s said because he hasn’t played a game of cards in a month. I don’t think that’s it.

Gotta run. Class in five.

Miss you so much,
Love, Lauren

p.s. I took your advice and left the newspaper clipping of Tom Kimura’s obituary on the table by Abigail’s favorite armchair in the library. I bought a lavender-hued primrose to set beside it. She said nothing to me about the obit. But she thanked me for the primrose. Which is the same thing, don’t you think?