Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Both the letter D and the letter M, carved above peculiar human faces, stand for something. And we have all afternoon to determine what. But the prospect of flipping through manuals and dredging up memories from twenty and thirty years in the past doesn’t sit well with those who make the decisions. It causes them to wonder out loud why the walls are painted a burnt umber and where your line of sight is apt to be obstructed, due to a copse of trees, say, or a ramshackle barn for hanging the tobacco. I pay such close attention to each of these in turn, I am startled when I realize Eulalie is standing at my elbow, breathing laboriously perhaps because of some unknown trauma to her torso, or because she has sprinted across the parking lot so as to avoid being struck by the vehicles pulling in and out at regular, though not entirely predictable, intervals. Her ardor has cooled recently due to insults I made at the expense of those who raised her, if a woman like Eulalie can be said to have been raised by anyone corporeal at all. We picture grand staircases and the sound of viola music drifting its way down them and a padlock on the cabinets where the muskets and the household’s ornate soup tureens are stored. Eulalie allows me access to those pages of her diary that endeavor to recount these earliest of events, albeit at a distance. They are full of descriptions in other languages, particularly Mandarin, and when you roll the phrases across your tongue, there is a distinct sense of having tasted them before, of having placed them in your mouth for two or three seconds before the bitterness took hold and made you regret that decision, made you want to spit them out like so many rancid caraway seeds. The faces and the vase atop the stone -- open, we’re told, and coverless -- amount to spiritual artifacts, reminders of our limited time on the planet and the numerous things we are expected to accomplish during that time. Graduate from high school. Scale the nearly vertical sides of mountains with axes and nylon ropes. For her part, Eulalie doubts very seriously whether the vase was intended to hold anyone’s ashes. She has a horror of the obvious and this manifests itself in her speech by making the things she says seem overly combative at precisely the moment when they ought to be soothing, ought to take one back as far as the bassinet by virtue of their lilt and stammer, their imagery drawn from the tending of goats.

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