Defensive Communicant

December 25, 2008

posted & written by Caroline Picard


Once Bridget took a train from Pittsburgh to Philly, took the train to see what it was like and was surprised by the vast distance between the two cities, surprised at the girth of Pennsylvania. Between sleep and conductor stories of loose pythons—a passenger had a python for a therapy pet and brought it on the train where it escaped and lived in the vents, eating mice and Triscuits supposedly—she’d read Black Spring her first Henry Miller that she’d plucked up because someone said his hookers were optimistic and even happy. She read about the adulterous wife, who in her imagination wore nothing but slips or worn silk and reveled in promiscuity. It took her husband years before he realized she was sleeping with all his poker buddies and then when he fucked her he stuck dollar bills in her cunt for a lark.

Bridget had always wanted to be a boy.

Gender seemed a difficult territory when alongside the ugliness that was also something fantastic about the horror: like a full-rich pulse. Fantastic in the willingness of people, all people, epic terrible Henry Miller people or naval cadets or coarse sorority drunks with pointy shoes and skinny legs that wobbled from too much tequila: they flourished a willing sex—it was all so easily horrible, from the position of any class, any caste, any body type and yet it was so easily adopted, the yoke of perpetuation, donned so quickly through some absurd faith of endurance and meaning.

In Philadelphia she had found an Italian market, watching for hours the strung up pigs and lambs that hung in the windows, strung up in a grimace of death, their corpses bleached, clammy and flayed. She wandered into a spice shop crowded with bottles and bins and handwritten labels that claimed the worldwide. She touched the saffron curry, amazed by its color, and ingested the full flavor of its scent. It was the taste of dust, but its color reminded her of silk and China and rivers in the Far East that decorated porcelain and china pots. Her childhood came back suddenly.

On the street she had continued farther, walking down the stretch of 9th Street, past the gun shops, the butchers, an ill-placed boutique From the Ballroom to the Bedroom with a discount special for Prom and one foot in front of the other into an isolated island of nostalgia where she saw the way it must have been. Old crones’ eyes watched her from everywhere, so still you could hardly see them from their respective shades, they sat, these old Italian women, fanning themselves in strict frowns, wearing cotton dresses with floral prints, their arms hanging out, oblique and freckled with liver spots, their necks sunk into the frame of their shoulders in weariness. They frowned and chortled under the shade of vinyl roofs, staring into the relentless bright of noon and brownstone, blinking intermittently, pointlessly, staring into such extremes that they saw nothing at all, except perhaps the blurred intuition of an automobile. They sat like grumpy potted plants, before and after an endless sea of time. Doomed to live forever.

They cooked turkey on Thanksgiving and ham on Christmas and always with rigatoni and calamari and always they would feed the same boy they’d fed for 46 years, the only bum on the block, born a cripple with a mullet and tennis shoes, he was the only grifter tolerated in the neighborhood because they’d seen him raised, they knew his mother and they shared the same shadows.
Bridget gave him a dollar, even though he looked well fed.

She’d bought their telephone at a thrift store full of old computers, radios and walkie-talkies.

On the way back to the train, Bridget passed a house, and in the dark saw a single light that cast a halo in from the back. Smoke came from the windows, and she saw the movement of strangers beyond it, stealing through the presumable safety of a run down habitat, lighting fags in secret arson. One of them was smoking a cigarette. Both dreamed big insurance dreams. The smoke streaming out of the windows grew thick.

That summer she had lived in Pittsburgh with the other boys. Her mother called her then, “Come back home,” her mother had said, “It’s your father’s last summer.” Bridget had gone to Philadelphia instead. When she got back to Pittsburgh, travlling on the same train, she placed their phone.


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