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Post Road Magazine #31

Carnality

Angela Woodward


Coffin

I used to keep my weekly cash money in a little coffin my friend Dave made. He had worked in a library, where he repaired books. When things were slow, he put together coffins out of the backing board they used. The coffin sits up on a shelf over my bed, where I can get to it, but when the kids were little they couldn't reach it. Not that I ever worried about them stealing from me. It just seemed like a good thing to keep safe from them. Under the money lay a rubber Halloween skeleton we called Boney Benny. The kids and I liked to play with that skeleton, so I'd get it out for them. But the coffin always stayed up too high for them. I don't know why. I liked the money being in a coffin, as if I were disturbing my grave whenever I took out a twenty.

Dave was a tech guy almost before there were tech guys. The library job where he made the coffins must have been an in between gig. He wrote a story once about a bialy that goes wild and makes outrageous demands. He wrote poems, too, and someone published an essay about his poems, though I don't know if Dave published his poems, and it seemed like there were only a handful of them. He didn't consider himself a poet, or didn't think he was good enough, in spite of the essay about him. He was so alluring. I visited him often in his New York apartment, though I lived in the Midwest in various states. Across the street from his place was a heroin outlet. It was called "Mad." When the coast was clear, the dealers came out in the street and called "Mad is open! Mad is open!" Despite my terror of his violent neighborhood, I stayed with him whenever I was visiting. Once I went to a movie on Waverly Place alone. I enjoyed the movie, though all through it ran an undertone of fear of my walk home by myself at close to midnight. It didn't occur to me to take a cab, or to get Dave or another friend to meet me. I walked back to Dave's place in the cold and dark, head down, quick steps. A man in a black leather coat swept up to me, arms outstretched, the coat billowing behind him. He yelled something at me. I ran out into the street and kept on going. Dave and his friends thought I was so cute, their little friend from Michigan. I kept my terror to myself. Once one of Dave's friends found my box of tampons in Dave's bathroom. He came out with it in his hands. "Look, Dave's got his period!" I had to confess it was mine, I was the guilty menstruator.

Dave did heroin. He seemed ashamed of himself for doing it, but it was also a big city bad boy thing that he seemed proud of. He was from dreadful suburban Texas. I only saw him do it once. It was at a party around the corner. After he shot up, his big boner shone through his tight pants. I couldn't stand it, and left. He slept until about three in the afternoon. Everyone loved him so much. His friends sat by his bed and talked to him when he couldn't get up. I sat there with Larry Odegard, Larry and I talking to each other about The Prison House of Language across Dave, Dave not saying much. We loved him. He had the best books. He had a tiny chapbook of some letters between a Dada poet and his friend. The Dada poet couldn't get out of France because of the Nazis. He wrote apologetically to his friend that he couldn't come visit. He wasn't writing much anymore. It was really hard to write poems these days. He was sorry even his letters weren't much. Not much happening here of note, he wrote. I mean, everything is terrible. Unimaginable. I wish I could come to England or New York and do those literary things you're inviting me to do, but I can't right now, because of the war. If you have any money you can get to me, that would be great. I can't see putting out the new edition. I don't have the time for it. It's not really very good anyway. Thanks for being so kind about it. Maybe later, when things are better.

2 Car

I read that a sign of low morale in a workplace is when the cars in the employee lot are backed into the slots. That means that when the workers drive in, they're already thinking about getting out. I used to never see this where I work, but now I see it every morning. The lot is really tight. It's hard to pull out in the afternoon, and often other cars are coming in at that time. It makes sense to back into the slot if you get there early enough. I won't do it, though.

Once I saw my friend Roberta sitting in her car talking on the phone well after eight a.m. She was probably talking to her daughter. Often the car next to me sits idling, and I wonder why the driver doesn't get out. They're waiting for their song to end. I do that, too. I can't bear to turn off the music. About the only place I listen to music is in the car. It's like my symphony hall. That car has four seats, and room in the back for the dog. But it's me by myself and the music, the beat coming up through the seat. It goes right up the spine that way, tantric. Music is much sexier in a car. I don't doubt that. Everyone must feel that way. Getting out of the car in the morning—turning the radio off and opening the door, taking out my bag and lunch, shutting the door, locking it with the clicker—is like shutting off my carnality. Gone for the day. Click. The lights flash, the horn beeps. The locks whump in. Very secure. Final. Getting back into the car at the end of the day is not like stepping back into carnality. It's the news, and traffic.

3 Doors

Dave and I made up a story once about doors. The doors had had enough of being flung aside and went on a one-day strike. Always difficult, temperamental, they groaned on their hinges, but we had ignored them over and over again. So they sank into the floor. They left only emptiness, open gaps. The scent of jasmine from the garden blew into my mother's house. Next door, the seven Zweifler kids rushed in and out through the blank portals. They made their own commotion even without the percussive slams and bangs. The oldest and most beautiful of the Zweifler girls, Tonya, ran out to meet her much older boyfriend. The car doors too had joined the communal action. "Let's go, let's go," she said to nasty Rick, all cigarettes and weed and stringy hair. He gunned it, but without that vicious thunk of steel sealing the chassis, her escape lacked conviction.

Evelyn in Room 308 at the Hyatt sat staring at her knees. She'd been planning this meeting with her lover for months. Even if he was late, yet again, like he always was, these couple hours would be worth it. Now it was ruined. They weren't going to get up to much without a door to close out the rest of the world. The dolled-up call girls in the Blue Lounge sighed into their gin and tonics. They wouldn't give up, though. It would all be okay. Stall the elevator between floors. Use the landings on the back stairwell. They preferred lean, anonymous condom sex. That's what they were paid for. Bending over the railing, stockings shredded around their thighs while he pounded it in from behind, quick, fierce, terrified of being seen—it had been years since sex thrilled them. They didn't want to get used to that.

Then what happened, Dave asked.

I didn't know. He had to do the rest of it.

The doors conferred. Did anyone even miss them? Everything ran right on time without them. The Jehovah's Witnesses walked directly into front hallways and plunked down their pamphlets. Mail carriers dumped the bills and shopper stoppers on the porch where there were no slots to stuff them through. Passengers leapt onto the bus and trickled their coins into the fare box.

We should have gotten the windows to come on strike with us, said the doors, Dave said. The walls should have joined us. Why aren't the floors sick of being trampled on? What good is it? No one notices if we're there or not there. We could lay down and die and they'd adjust in minutes.

4 Prayer

Dave made little things out of fruit. He put tangerines on the radiator, where they shriveled and dried. They developed gridded lines on their bottoms, where they pressed into the metal. Their sides collapsed into dimples and irregularities. The skin went from glowing with oil to brusquely leathery, and they weighed almost nothing once all the juice evaporated. He gave one to me, and I kept it for years in my kitchen. Once he took the stem from a bunch of bananas, set it up on its knob, and stuck razor blades through a couple of the ends. It held the blades up in its arms, like a blackened spider wielding weapons. It must have been quite a special bunch of bananas, that he could get the stems to stand up. He gave me this one too, but I didn't hang onto it. I might have thrown it away.

Dave had a friend who was also staying with him one time when I was visiting. "You're so sweet and mild, Dave's little friend," said this friend. He wanted me to come lie down with him in Dave's bed while Dave was out, and scratch him all over with bottle caps. He was sure I could make him bleed, and would revel in it. He seemed to see it in my eyes, that I would be game for this, if he asked me outright. The innocent way I carried myself, how I sat on the edge of Dave's bed reading, was what attracted him.

Later Dave apologized for his friend's behavior. "He told me," Dave said, "that he lay in the bedroom praying that you'd come in there." He laughed, like it was no big deal.

He didn't know I had been praying from under my blanket on Dave's couch that I wouldn't go in there.



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