We can’t remember who ordered the Pinot Noir or Pinot Grigio. She reaches tentatively for the red, so I take the white.
“What did you think of the fashion show?” I ask.
“What fashion sh…oh, the fashion show. Well I don’t know exactly. I never saw a dress made out of—what was it made out of, Nick?”
My name is Dick, but no matter. “Metal and chains,” I say.
In ninth grade algebra her walk from the blackboard back to her desk was like an undulating presentment of original sin. Now, a half century later, I’m having a glass of wine with her at a French Bistro in the Village, and after we just attended a fashion show—not a baseball or football game, mind you— but a fashion show. “Yeah right,” I would have said at the thought of it, “and I’m gonna walk on the moon one day.”
Her hair is a ruffled pixie of tarnished silver. The lower extension of a tiny crucifix hanging from her neck points down to a hint of perfect cleavage. If only Viagra still worked, but as it stands, the bookends of my life as far as Cynthia is concerned are that I knew her before I knew anything and now again when I know everything but can do nothing.
“Seen any good movies lately,” I ask.
“Yes, indeed. Just last week I saw, oh what was the name of it, you know, the one with what’s her name, the actress who’s married to that actor—what’s his name?”
We sit in a quandary.
“You still got all your marbles, Nick?” she suddenly asks in earnest.
“I suppose not.”
“I went and did a silly thing, Nick. I went to a clinic that gives tests for early signs of dementia.”
“Dementia? By Hitchcock, right?”
“No. Dementia, as in marbles, or the lack of them. They gave me a mini whaddaya call it.”
“You know—cog, I think it was.”
”Cognition,” she says loudly, as though I’m hard of hearing. “A mini-cog test.”
Her head is cocked at a concentrated angle, and marbles begin to drop out of her ear. They plunk onto the hard wood surface of our table and roll around in widening semi-circles to the edge where they hesitate and then jump off, plunking again onto the tile floor. Each plunk is a jolt to our sensibilities, but we’re complicit in denial and stare through it.
I glance down and notice that her marbles are the white opaque glass type, each with a thin red line meandering around its surface. They were among the most preferred marbles in Scranton when I was a kid. We called them spaghetti marbles. They’re earthy and steadfast, and I think it’s appropriate that Cynthia’s head is filled with spaghetti marbles. I noticed that the little suckers on my pillow this morning were of the coreless swirl variety, a more common type.
There are many different kinds of marbles: Clearies, Milkies, Corkscrews, Sulphides; but the crown jewel of marbles is the Lutz, where golden veins of glass sparkle in continuous swirls and coppery crystals emanate a phosphorescent brilliance. They’re the rarest of all marbles and are found only in the most stunning and intellectual people. I doubt that any of my old high school classmates had Lutz marbles.
My cell phone alarm beeps to remind me of my medication, but it seems to work for Cynthia also. She suddenly straightens in her chair and actually remembers something.
“Oh my,” she says, “I have to get back for the whaddaya call it, the…”
“The reception,” I hazzard to guess.
We get up and stand for a moment, seeing Kadachromes of our young selves in the older faces we wear. We come from the same strip-mined ravaged valley deep in the folds of Northern Appalachia. We have the same spring-like bounce in the balls of our feet that used to propel us up steep foothills after school to modest clapboard houses.
In winters we carried the same shovels of anthracite coal from bin to furnace in dusty cellars and lugged the same heavy pails of gray ash out for pick-up on Thursday mornings.
Cynthia and I are cut from the same starched cloth of virginal love, consecrated with babies too soon and lullabies too bittersweet. We know each other’s marbles.
She starts fumbling with her wallet, but I take both her hands in mine and squeeze it shut. Gallant words allude me so I simply step forward to kiss her when a couple of those dam things—those marbles—are there again, rolling under the soles of my shoes, causing my feet to fly out from under me.
My calcium challenged bones are stretched out horizontily in mid-air between a floor of lost marbles and the bright sheen of a polished copper ceiling. It occurs to me that this is the summation of my life, as it were; an ever so brief suspension between two eternities that is about to come to an end with the slam of my body and crack of my skull.
“Did you do that commercial with the skunk?”
I was waiting for a call that might save me, but there was that voice again.
“You know, the deodorant spot where the guy turns into a skunk—you listening?”
“No—I mean yeah I’m listening, and no, I didn’t.”
“But whaddaya think, pretty funny, huh?”
“I’m getting called into a meeting any second. What’s up?”
“I was thinking I’d like a grave blanket for the holidays.
”It’s like a Christmas wreath, only for the grave.”
“Wait a minute—hi Josh.”
“Consumers don’t know our beer ain’t German. It’s Dutch. I’m adding a Dutch heritage bucket to the list.”
“That makes four strategies, Josh. Are you gangbanging this?”
“No way. Your’s to win or lose. Hang tight for the meeting.”
“But Josh—Josh? Sorry. And how the hell do I get it there? I don’t think I could find your grave anymore.”
“It’s by the angel with six wings, remember? Three graves towards Main Avenue, two rows downslope.”
“But nobody decorates graves at Christmas, mom. That’s what Memorial Day is for. I can get purple orchids, your favorite. What was dad’s? I forget.”
“There you go. I can mix em up, orchids and lilies, order them online. When’s Memorial Day—sometime in April, I think. Gimme a minute here.“
My angina pain was there again. Josh sounded a little too—I don’t know—a little too something. Would he really let one creative director handle four strategies. Leona Feldman wanted in on the beer thing. I could feel it as sure as I could feel me inside her at
“But remember how we loved the holidays. Three trees worth of ornaments on every Christmas tree—remember—when you were a kid?”
“Hold on. Gotta make a quick call. (I called Leona.) It’s me,” I said.
“What?” she said, and I knew she didn’t love me anymore.
“No,” she said, and I knew she was working against me.
“Can’t. I’m crazed.”
“On what?” There was a pause. ”On what, Leona?”
“Oil of Olay.”
“Maybe I can help.”
“But you’re not a beauty guy, baby”
“True. I’m more of a beer guy, wouldn’t you say?”
“But wait—Leona? Sorry mom.“
“I hate to think of our grave with nothing on it this time of year. Scranton’s what from New York, about a three hour drive, right? I was just wondering, maybe you could drop in and say hi to the cousins, then scoot over to the cemetery and—”
“Oil of Olay my ass.”
“I got a chance to bring in a beer account here worth forty mil. I could kill if I ever got into the beverage category.”
“Things are opening up at McCann. They landed the number one selling domestic light, and my headhunter has a way in the door.”
“I’m in trouble. Shampoo and pickles are on review and my contract is almost up. I don’t need you and dad coming back from the dead, I need beer on my reel. Wait. Yeah Irv.”
“And fuck you too.
“Potato chips, 36th floor, where were you? Chips is an account of record—do you hear me—greases our lives with paychecks. We got trouble. The Olestra in our brand is a gastrointestinal disaster. People at the FDA are—“
I terminated Irv. A chance on beer trumped chips that caused the runs.
I stood up and opted for the view out my window. Tiny cars and buses were crawling along the lower quarter of the thick plate glass. I tried to rub them out with my thumb but they seemed to be on the outside. Leona’s skimpy red panties from that night at the Plaza were caught in the updraft between buildings and foating toward me, flapping around out there like they were laughing at me.
Maybe going home for Christmas was the grip I needed to get hold of; it had been years. What was it she said? Three trees worth of ornaments on every Christmas tree, I think she said. When I was a kid, she said. They’re near the angel with six wings, I think she said