September 11th, 2008
I did this one awhile ago…
First, she introduced us to the man on her porch. Resembling an Orthodox Jew with his black hat, and beard — also black — he shuffled away in knee-high sports socks and Adidas gym shoes. Next, she welcomed us into her faded apartment. Two fat cats scurried out of the way, their picking at the food on the floor interrupted. She told us they weren’t very affectionate, so don’t even attempt to pet them.
She still wore her housecoat and I guess it was morning, it being before (though just) noon. Dyed reddish-pink hair lay in tufts against her scalp, with one particularly stubborn portion remaining in the position it surely must have been when she arose from her pillow that morning. She spoke out of the right side of her mouth and her dentures needed a thorough cleaning; black stripes ribboned each tooth.
Her place looked muddled and juxtaposed, like her. She showed us a paper mache cheetah she kept in the corner, over which she’d draped her old rosary, carried when she’d been a nun. Laughing, she told us how the kids in her school used to know her approach by the sound of the rosary’s seeds bumping against her hip, for that’s how they wore them in those days.
Her paintings lined the walls. Abstract, and a little forceful — if one can describe art that way — it was impossible to put the woman with her work, though she stood right next to me.
Truly beautiful, the colors seemed thrown against the canvas with casual violence, and mirrored what I think her soul must look like.
She pulled out pictures from the old days, her head thrown back in laughter as she sat next to another nun, in full habit, hunched in a roller coaster.
Then, a picture of her sister, who two weeks before had killed herself. She grew indignant when she recounted how a grief counselor had told her to say “my sister took her life,” instead of “she committed suicide,” as if one is better than the other.
The woman herself had been in an accident not a year ago, and was “scrambled” as my friend put it. Indeed, the sharp barks that issued from her mouth after each comment sounded out of place. It was like all the air in her body gathered in the base of her throat and came forth at her bidding. But the effort it took to talk seemed great, and I wasn’t one to begrudge her that.
I needed to go, and as we left, my eye caught one of her paintings. A peacock feather to me, it was like a furious funnel of color and light, poised and ready to gather strength and magnitude.
A peacock to me. She might think it was a Phoenix.