Thursday, September 11, 2008

All That You Are is a Dream.

I'll see you on the street and I'll imagine you and me, I'll see myself approaching you, putting my hands firmly (but gently) on your shoulders and I'll say this to you. I'll tell you all of these things.

We could have it all. We could leave right here, right now, I don't need to go to work and neither do you and we'll embrace the spontaneity and the serendipity of the occasion and do something just as random as our encounter, like bungee-jumping or trying some bizarre ethnic food and the excitement will be perfectly representative of our brand new relationship and the happiness that it will surely bring the both of us.

We'll drop our bags in a locker at the bus station and you'll close your eyes and I'll spin you around in a circle and after four or five rotations, you'll randomly point your finger in some direction, your choice being guided by the patron saint of romantic notions and warm-hearted eccentricities and we'll follow that direction, we'll hop on the first bus headed that way and when we get on the bus, we'll sit somewhere towards the back so we can be alone in our new reverie, and you'll put your head on my shoulder and we'll hold each other through day and night and day and night and day and night and day and night and day and we'll get off of the train in some Norman Rockwell portrait.

When we step off the bus, we'll come up with a new last name, something to replace the "Sherwin" and "Smith" or whatever your last name might be—by this point, I imagine I will have learned it—and we will abandon our secondhand monikers that have been given us by heritage and circumstance and we will forge something new and that name will be us. It will be you and it will be me and it will be beautiful.

I'll canvas the town for work so that we have money to eat and to be sheltered because we will have love and there is nothing else that we will need and I will discover a small diner run by a third generation Polish American named Nikolai who will serve pirogue but call it ravioli, much to the chagrin of his wife, Ruthie, a first generation Italian immigrant that wants to keep their diner a tiny little slice of her tradition and culture and identity and Nikolai will offer me five bucks an hour and two meals a day (one for you, one for me) if I'll bus and serve and wash dishes and I gladly accept and we shake on it and my hand will reek of vodka and optimism for a solid hour.

You'll go through town and try to find us a place to stay, someplace appropriately squalid to cement the romance of our poor-and-in-love lifestyle and you'll come to an old woman's house, and the tenant, Mrs. Esmerelda Fay Naughton-Meyers, a churchgoing Christian who compares us to Joseph and Mary and whose references to your birthing of the baby Jesus make you more uncomfortable than you would care to admit because you're not quite sure how you feel about religion just yet, but that's okay because you have faith in me and that's good enough for now and she'll offer us the hundred square feet of the attic for ten dollars a week, so long as we join her at church every Sunday and you play pinochle with her twice a week and help out with bingo night whenever that crazy Jones boy isn't able to call the numbers on account of his voice disappearing, as it has precedent to do.

And we'll be happy. Nikolai and Ruthie will take a four week European vacation using the money that they've been hoarding and they'll meet each others' families and come back with tales of passion and reclamation and belonging and the best thing about it will be the lion's share of the profits that Nikolai offers to share with me due to my hard work and diligence and my eagerness to pick up extra hours and not insist on overtime pay because I know he can't afford it and I'll use that money to order you a new sweater from an LL Bean catalogue and it'll arrive the day after your birthday and you will be so sad when the day comes and goes and you will think that I don't love you and you'll reconsider everything, every romantic thing I've said and you've reciprocated, every touch you've so graciously gifted me, every random caution-to-the-wind chance that we've taken, and you'll wonder if you've made a horrible mistake and that you're still young, you still have your life, no one would miss you if you left because who would miss you but me and if I don't care then who does? And you'll pack up at 5 AM but you'll run into Stan, our mailman, just as you're giving him his Christmas gift three weeks early (you'd wait until Christmas, but you're leaving) and he hands you the package and wishes you a happy birthday and there's a note inside and you read it and it will say:

"I love you. It's you and me versus the world and we're coming out ahead. You're everything and I'm so sorry that I can't give you more, but it's important for you to know that this is everything that I have and I hope you'll treasure it as dearly as I treasure you."

I will have signed the letter with a fountain pen that Ruthie brought me back from her uncle who works in a Mont Blanc factory and you'll laugh at my attempt to be sweet and romantic, but you'll know that my heart was in the right place and you'll wipe a tear or two from your eyes and as you try on the sweater I'll be just waking up to accept the deliveries from the bread company and I'll see that look in your eyes and you won't let me go to work and I'll call Nikolai and tell him I'm not going to make it in because something came up and he'll chuckle at the unintentional double entendre and we'll make love in the morning as the sun comes up and after we're lying there, breathing each other in and letting the silence speak volumes, you'll know, deep in your heart, that you're pregnant and that it'll be a boy.

Luckily, Ruthie will have had training as a midwife and as the time gets closer and closer you and her will become like sisters and then like mother and daughter and you'll feel closer to anyone than you've ever felt before and seeing her and Nikolai will give you hope because if they can do it, why can't we?

At church, the preacher will ask that we all keep you in our prayers because you're due any day now and you've ballooned so much that Ruthie suspects you'll birth twins, although you deny deny deny. In the middle of bingo that Wednesday, you call out "15! Who's got 15?" and Mrs. Naughton-Meyers will stand up on those weathered legs and proclaim "BINGO!" at the top of her lungs and that sets your womb into overtime and your water breaks and I put down my book, put you in the wheelchair I've been keeping around for this, and we start to take you home, but there's not enough time so we stop at the diner because it's at least sanitized and we decide that if there's anyplace to have a baby, it might as well be the diner.

And Ruthie was right: they're twins. A boy and a girl, which we decide to name Ruth and Nicholas after their godparents and benefactors, and right after you give life to a healthy baby girl, you see Ruthie's face between your legs as she helps the baby boy escape your womb and you see that Ruthie's crying and you ask her what's wrong but she won't answer and this terrifies you so you scream and our new daughter starts crying and Ruthie shows me the second child, the boy that wasn't able to get enough oxygen and who has died and I'll take him away from Ruthie and cradle this tiny little body, this disproportionately small vessel and I'll wrap him in a blanket and I'll see Nikolai, this big beast of a man whose emotions are never further from anything than the surface, and he's shaking his head, whispering something in Russian that sounds comfortingly like a prayer and I'll immediately feel better and I'll ask him to take care of you while I'll do what needs to be done.

I'll go into an empty field, lifeless infant in my arms, and I'll dig a small hole using a flat rock I'll find below an oak tree and I'll make it just big enough to put Nicholas in and as I lay him inside his grave and blanket his body with soil, his hand will slip between the folds of the blanket and I will break down and sob and I won't be able to control myself and I'll be called back to you when I hear Ruthie call for me and I'll return to you and we'll instantly confer and agree that our daughter should be called Ruth Nicole in honor of both her godparents and her younger brother who was just too fucking good to stay in this world.

And the three of us will be happy.

4 comments:

W. A. Sandholtz said...

good story.

emilyf said...

not good. Perfectly timeless.

Meg said...

this is so heart breakingly beautiful, and I don't know what else to say other than, my god, the outline of a novel, the story behind a painting, the image and chills i get when i see an infant gravestone from a hundred years ago

Coby Gerstner said...

Vivid. I could see it all.