Monday, January 31, 2011

Mothers & Sons, IX

When Claudia returned she had changed into a robe. Servi was still at the kitchen table, drinking a coffee.

“Do you mind if we do it on the couch?” she asked, moving past Servi and into the tiny living room. “I share the bedroom with Paulo and he is a light sleeper.”

“Do what?” Servi asked.

“Sex,” the woman answered quizzically. “I have never been stalked before but I imagine you did not follow me around all day to just eat my pasta? From what you have said you have been in Rome sometime, doing nothing really, and must have seen all the sights, and you don’t speak French, German, or Hebrew, no? And besides, your eyes never left me…”

“I thought we could talk first,” Servi said, rising from the table and moving toward her. Claudia had removed her robe and reclined on the threadbare couch without a stitch of clothing. Servi loomed over her for a moment and she pulled him down to her. “No time for talk Americano,” she continued, grappling with his clothes. “I have my first tour at 7:30AM. It’s now or never.”

As it was apparently now, Servi helped her removed his clothes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mothers & Sons, VIII

Servi sat and watched Claudia prepare Paulo for bed. She fed both Servi and her son at the kitchen table. The little boy appeared unabashed by a strange man at supper, but when Servi mentioned he was from New York City, the boy brightened somewhat, and asked a series of questions about the city formed from a pastiche of movies, TV, and international cliché which floats rumors about large cities like pollen in a great meadow.

“You talk too much, Paulo,” his mother scolded him. “Eat. Don’t wear our guest out for me.”

But the boy continued, and Servi felt a bit like the older brother returned from the great overseas voyage. Feeling like Claudia’s son did not damped Servi’s attraction toward her, but the source of the sensation unsettled him, and he pushed it to a remote corner of his addled mind. All evening long he had watched her in a little sun dress, studded with daisies, moving about the kitchen like an Italian matron: padding back and forth on bare feet from the stove to the sink, the sink to the kitchen with pasta, bread, wine. Servi watched with devotional awe the surge of muscle beneath the sheer material of her skirt, and marveled at her slim arms and sharp elbows, as if the dichotomy of this woman made in flesh was also etched in the universal form of Female Herself.

When the meal was over and the boy was in his pajamas Claudia told him to kiss Servi. The boy did so dutifully on the cheek. It was 9PM in June, and streaks of ruddy light arched over the Roman sky, as if the sun had not really set, but was merely hiding beneath the horizon, awaiting for an unsuspecting and auspicious moment to reappear where it has just gone missing.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mothers & Sons, VII

Claudia led Servi through a winding alley which ended in a high courtyard. A line of clothes hung above them; shirts and pants rustled stiffly in the warm breeze. Servi felt yet another shiver at the confluence of memory and experience: he had, as a boy, escaped from nearly every institution designed to provide him with care. Most of the time, he knew his way home, but once, during afternoon religious instruction at his local Roman Catholic Church, he was following his class down a hallway when he saw a door. Doors are for exiting, so Servi found himself on the street. He was not familiar with the neighborhood around Saint Jude’s Church, so after wandering around for a half hour, he began to cry. After another half hour, he was in front of the rectory. An old nun saw him and accompanied him back to his class.

Servi was suspended in some form of half-life, some purgatory designed not to expunge his soul of sin, but to keep him from choosing between either or or. He wanted to be home but despised it; he fled his mother only to return. He corroded the valves of his heart with emotions as conflicting as identical poles of two magnets, forced together again and again without natural compliance or complicity.

And now he was here, at twenty-three, being led by a mother to a son, an escapee who had so ritualized the routine that it had become as mundane as a neighborhood football game.

Claudia entered a rectory and on a broad, wide oak table sat her son in front of a plate of cookies and a glass of milk. An old priest with wide, round glasses like an owl’s eyes and a head shaved to a gray stubble, was quietly speaking with the boy in the soft accents of the Roman dialect which are employed domestically, over a supper table or in a bedroom.

“Ahh, Senora Sacredotte,” the priest rose up from his chair. “You are here for Paulo, no?”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mothers & Sons, VI

Servi walked quickly alongside Claudia Sacerdotte. She asked him several pointed questions about his visit to Rome, and upon hearing his answers, clicked her tongue in evident disapproval.

“A young man should not waste his time like that,” she said, glancing at him as they walked. “How old are you, anyway?” Servi told her. She clicked her tongue again. “I have ten years on you, so I should know about lost time.”

From the flow of the conversation, from the biting edge of her words and her teasing, tense and imaginative sense of the world, Servi thought they may sleep together. He imagined her as the tour guide of eros, giving him instructions in French, German, Hebrew, English, Italian, in technique, speed, etiquette; she would attach to sex the same commando style which she imposed on a group of aging Germans: firm, gentle, brisk, polite, but always with one eye on the clock, continually aware that days and nights and sex were cycles to be enacted, and that like a guided tour around the heart of the capital of Christendom, it must come to a conclusion, whether satisfying or not.

Servi watched Claudia speak with one of the day school attendants, who told her that her son Paulo was nowhere to be found.

“Oh Jesus,” the attended explained, looking about. “He’s escaped again.” On hearing this, Claudia did not register any visible distress. She just glanced at Servi knowingly.

“They can’t even keep track of one little boy,” she said to him loudly, so the other woman could hear. “I can lead forty French pensioners around by their noses but they can’t hold onto one boy.”

“We have a dozen little boys here, Senora Sarcedotte,” the woman answered primly.

“Your son is missing?” Servi asked Claudia, alarmed.

“Don’t worry,” Claudia pulled Servi away by his arm. “He is only ritually lost. He always goes to the same place.”

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mothers & Sons, V

The day went on like this: three German groups, two French, a group of Scotswomen in English. The guide did not stop even for lunch. Servi did not get off the bus. The woman changed languages but not the intensity of her presentation and the veracity and firmness in which she projected it: the Vatican, the Pallazo Nova, the Pantheon, the Coliseum, the Circus Maximus, the Forum, a roll call of Roman antiquity in four languages and four gears, with marginalia presented by the bus driver, who grunted and groaned at the woman’s whispered commands. This was the same will which she had used to drop off her reluctant son at the day school. The impulse which Lot’s wife succumbed to, but not this woman.

Then it was all over. Servi was once again alone on the bus but no other group came on. The woman was in front of him, casting him a wan smile, an expression which all at once seemed to inform and confuse him about her motivations and drives. She threw a bag over her shoulder and placed both her hands firmly on her hips.

“Now you have to get off,” she said in English, only to finish in Italian. “The bus goes back to the garage and I must go fetch my son.”

“I can come?” Servi asked.

“To the garage?” the woman answered, raising her eyebrows.

“No, to get your son.”

“Suit yourself,” she said, turning away. So Servi followed her into the street.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mothers and Sons, IV

Servi did not look out the window. He simply watched the woman speak Hebrew into the microphone. The hail of words were incomprehensible, but occasionally Servi could hear such terms at Vatican City, the Pope, Michelangelo, the Sistine Ceiling, and noticed without intersest that he was in front of such and such a monument to human artistic achievement.

They would get down on the street, and the woman would point and speak, and then they were on the bus again, moving rapidly down the Via Veneto. Scooters surrounded the bus, like sucker fish near a shark, moving ahead and behind, forward and back, of the larger beast. Servi saw this only through the corner of his eye, for he solely watched the woman.

Now, after nearly an hour of surveillance, he thought that perhaps she was not really like his mother at all. Her face was far more theatrically inclined; the lines beneath the eyes gave the woman a certain gravity to her expression which offset her quick step, her fast talking, and the glimmer of her white skin like light kissing the surface of polished marble.

And then it was over. Servi was all alone on the bus, and the woman was no longer at the microphone. All the elderly Israelis were gone, and Servi sat in the seat in front of some second class hotel he did not recognize on some side street he could not name.

The woman was talking to the bus driver in Italian. The man was grunting in response. Then she was in front of Servi. She did not even try to address him in Hebrew, but in English.

“You need to get off,” she said primly. “We have to clean the bus for the next group.”

“How did you know I speak English,” Servi answered in Italian. The woman just flicked her wrist.

“I do this for a living,” she answered in Italian. “I can tell from a glance who is who and where they are from… even someone like you, who tries to hide it with your big beard and shabby clothes. You can’t hide it from me,” she wagged her finger at him, as if he was a naughty child. “It’s in the face, the hands, the walk, America, America, America.” She seemed irritated, but she smiled at Servi. “You have to get off, another group is coming.”

“What language?”

“German,” she explained, placing a hand on her hip. She gazed inscrutably at Servi.

“I can’t understand German either,” Servi answered.

“Well,” the woman explained, dropping her hand from her hip, “then there is no harm in staying on, I suppose.” She smiled brightly at this idea, but then the smile fell from her face, as if the notion pleased and displeased her in such rapid succession, the sensation was irritating.

Then Servi was once again surrounded by elderly people, and the woman took up the microphone and addressed them in German.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mothers & Sons, III

Servi watched the woman as she approached a door surrounded by a phalanx of other women and children. The woman passed off the boy somewhere in the scrum, and  walked briskly away, never looking back.

Servi followed her. She trotted down the street in medium sized heels. He watched the long arch of her legs, her sturdy calves as they tensed and flexed as she skipped down the sidewalk, the hint of strong thigh revealed through the tight outline of her skirt. Her upper body was skimpy compared to her lower, as if a creator had meant to fashion a woman out of hardy, peasant stock and ran out of material above the waist. She wore some sort of uniform on her tapered upper half, a vest emblazoned with words which Servi could not read.

Then it all became apparent: she bounded on a tour bus and quickly addressed the driver, who was waving a hand dismissively toward her. She picked up a microphone and was about to address the crowd behind her as Servi moved  to take a seat near the front.

For a moment, she looked at the young man keenly, as if she may know him, but then blinked and the expression fell from her face, like a curtain falling from a window and revealing a rainy day. She licked her lips and began to speak. She spoke to two dozen elderly men and women quickly in a language Servi did not recognize. She spoke rapidly but efficiently in this strange tongue, harsh with gutturals and sudden with full stops and brimming with brisk, skipping vowels. Servi thought it was Arabic, but then saw an Israeli newspaper in an old man’s hand and realized it was Hebrew.

The woman began to gesture with her right hand out the window as the bus pulled away from the curb and into a harrowing wall of Roman morning traffic.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mothers and Sons, II

Servi’s first real memory floated to the service, like a bubble rising through the taut surface of a heavy liquid: Servi was in the basement of a Roman Catholic Church. Despite his protests in the morning, here he was with other children.

Servi remembered the casual anarchy of the room: work tables and play areas and he was supposed to move from one to the other with the regularity of a tide. But Servi clung with tenacity to one task, not for the joy of doing it, but because of the fear of novel arrangements. Every now and again a Mother-Helper would coax Servi to adjust the horizons of his expectations and move on to another task. Servi continued on because his mother promised him she remained in the parking lot in the car. He realized that she was out there, above ground, waiting for him to complete his circuit of tables; to perform the tasks he was meant to finish for goals which were as inexplicably hidden, as obscure as the knot of life tight and clean he held within him.

One fine day the children were brought into the parking lot to complete a task in the open air, and Servi did not see his mother’s familiar blue car. Servi cried without a thread of consolation. When his mother arrived to pick him up, she explained that she simply went to buy the Newsday. The lie was apparent, but when Servi returned to the Volkswagen he accepted it as a natural truth. It was his first real breach of trust, and it passed by without evident notice or regard, only to be played out later, on a wider screen, in different cities, houses, apartments, with other women.

From then on, the world had a solid surface, but the hot magma beneath could burst at any moment. Servi walked on the eggshells of disharmony; he felt at any moment that the chasm would open between his feet.

He knew the lie was not an unpardonable monument to neglect. It was merely a question of the abuse of fundamentals. It was the carrot offered to a young boy on the end of the maternal stick, the incentive to get him to do what he did not want to do, which is the prerogative of mothers; that this was Servi’s first memory, the anchor by which all his other memories hinged, formed a disagreeably fragile impression of the solid forms of the world. Like a keystone in a bridge, this was the piece which held up the entire edifice of Aaron Servi’s past and present.

And although he laughed at the lie, mocked it, held it up into the sun for casual ridicule or gleeful scorn, even bloodied it with a thorny switch, its power was magisterial. In the arena of Servi’s psyche where matters ran deeply, darkly, it held the paramount position.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mothers and Sons, I

[This was part of a longer work, tossed aside for what seemed like good reasons at the time.  The 'novel' does not have a very elegant name, which I won't reveal here.  As far as I can tell this story deals with Italian mother fixations, that old myth, secret Jewish tendencies, yet another nice fiction, and the urge of men to control women, even obliquely - probably true most of the time, but not as much as some may think. EM]


1. There was something about the woman which reminded Aaron Servi of his mother. Perhaps it was the way she towed her son along, like a ship bringing some object across its wake by an unskilled helmsman, dragging him to and fro in choppy, unsettled waters.

Perhaps it was her bobbed brown hair, her hazel eyes, and her pert, impertinent nose, so much like his mother's that Servi blinked again and again to force the persistent image to fade away. Perhaps it was none of these elements. Something dark and evasive moved across this busy, sun drenched street in Rome, like a rumor of some sin or malfeasance which no person could name or utter, but which rested over the avenue like a miasma, a concealing pall, the very form of something broken with a world that remains settled in the shell of a dark mystery.

Servi did not doubt that she was dragging the boy to some day school on her way to work. They were speaking to each other rapidly and in the bustle of the street and the wail of the scooters, Servi could not hear a clear word. But from the texture of the sounds they produced, he could tell that neither was truly listening to what the other said.  Their words were carried aloft in the rush and tumult of the morning avenue, never to meet.

There were two dramas being enacted here, the mother’s and the son’s, and they only glancing intersected along this busy street, in the hustle to get somewhere, in the crevices between the need to arrive and the desperate posture to love and protect. Servi saw the connections between this scene and the scenes of his own existence grow like a vine spreading up a tree, prepared to choke it of nourishing light and water and air

He felt  sadness for the boy. The sadness resembled the melancholy of Servi as a youngster to such a vivid extent that he became the boy, looking up at his lovely mother, assembling some plea which she would only dissemble with a hail of biting words.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Voice of Water VII (The End)

Was that his car? She turned around, but her hair was loose, and she lost sight of what she had seen. Was it the blue convertible? Was it him at all? There was a man approaching from Newberry Street. He was wearing the mafia outfit. But it wasn’t him, just a collection of his features hung on the wrong man. She crossed the street and there was the cowboy, with the ten gallon hat and the bolo tie, but the traits were arranged in the wrong configuration, making a mockery of his appearance. The man stared at her possessively. What gives you the right to be alone, his gaze said.

Her shoe almost fell off as she walked down the steep steps of the Arlington T stop. She waited for the train and when it came sat in an empty car with an old man. She felt as if she was wearing the wrong clothes again. She pulled at her collar and squirmed in her coat. She took off the hat which was suddenly as tight as a tourniquet. The old man was mumbling something. Then he started to scream.

“You have to get away! You have to run! You need to return from where you came! Do you think that this is a dress rehearsal? You’ll come back as a flea or a rat if you don’t run. You’ll fuck your shot. It’s all pussies and cocks, pussies and cocks, until they’re gone. Just  nothing. What will you have then, little girl? All that comes is the next thing and the next thing. When does it end? Does it come in one big pulse or in  short squirts? It is water or come? Are you going to drink it all at once? You’ll stumble around in the muck of and get stuck and then you’ll come back to blame me!”

He continued the tirade, screaming a roll call of crimes. A conductor entered the car and told the man to shut up.

“Are you alright madam?” he asked. “Do you want to have him arrested? Is he harassing you?”

“No,” Sarah smiled with fatigue. “He's telling the truth.”

And out on the street all the faces reflected the black and the white. The dry and the wet. And Sarah beamed at them, as if they had a gift to give her. And even the faces of the men, lean and hungry, yearning and hot, had a something special to impart to her, and she let it wash over her body greedily, even as she feared and hated them.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Voice of Water VI

Then again knocking. Sarah was seated at the window, watching the leaves fall off the maple. She knew that he knew she was in; but he never did a repeat performance. Once again he was gone. She could see him get into his car, this time in a sailing outfit, a blue cap and white jacket with a nautical logo and dockers. He did not look up. If he did, he could see her. He was too disciplined to look, but his visits were becoming more frequent. She felt him wanting to look up, but shaking off the impulse. Then he was gone.

He came the next day, just as Sarah had on her coat and was about the leave. He knocked and she stood still. Then the unexpected. He knocked again; a peel of five knocks. She dare not look out the window. She knew he was looking up. Something had changed in the web they had built together. Sarah saw a small hole in the criss-crossing lines, and knew how she could make it wider with just her little finger. Then she could simply leap out.

She was sitting under an oak tree on the divider of Commonwealth Avenue. A fountain was gushing water. A great oak tree was shedding acorns. Squirrels dashed around; hoarding transformed them into dervishes. Then he was standing there in his herringbone coat, fedora hat, and high waisted paints: his F. Scott Fitzgerald look.

“I was with the Scientologists concluding a deal,” he told her. She did not believe him. He handed her a brochure she refused to take. “Even though I make them shit loads of money, they can’t resist. They want me to eat their crap sandwich and tell them it’s filet mignon. That’s their deal,” He waved a hand dismissively and studied her. “ I get the impression you’re avoiding me.”

“Avoiding is a strong word. I’ve been alone for days. I’ve hardly spoken a word.”

“You have the right. You’re you and I’m me. What can we do about that? To think there is more is preposterous. But I thought there was something there, a ligament that connected us. And I don’t mean the sex.”

“There was. There is” she concluded. And the nagging sensation was back. She could feel his desire to hit her. She wondered how she would react.

“There was,” he repeated and squatted beside her. He held his keys on the ring, as large and round as a warden’s, and jiggled them heavily. “I’m the ladder and now you’ve kicked it away? You’ve seen what life can be without the bullshit? I gave you a great gift and now you want to just walk away from me and stride off into some place of light?”

“There isn’t any place. You’ve said so yourself.”

“Oh, there is a place Sarah. Not a place like under this oak tree. Our in the bed of that little shit who laps you up. And not light like that light, coming down like these asshole acorns. But there is a place. And it can be dangerous to go there alone. You need someone to grasp you ankles. Hold you down. That can only be me and you know it.”

“You made a good pitch for everything. The moment. The fleetingness of things. The connectedness of everything. Now I can taste it, and you want to take it out of my mouth.”

“No,” he answered, shaking his head. “I just want to take my cut. I always take my cut. Money. Sex. This gift I’ve given you. Did you think it would come without a price?”

“There are no prices,” she stood up and straightened her skirt. “I got what I wanted and I did it alone. You said it was mine and that it had no price.”

“Well, I lied.”

“You said you never lie,” she answered him sternly.

“I lied about that,” he said low and even.

“Then we’re done. Don’t come around any more.”

“It’s not that easy,” he answered, smiling. “You have to pay for what I’ve given you. I never told you the price.”

But she did not hear his terms, for she had quickly walked away.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Voice of Water V

Sarah walked along the Esplanade. Ahead was the great shaved rump of Beacon Hill. A string of lights ran up its flank, like stars that had fallen from the sky and were extinguishing slowly in a field of melting snow. She reached out her hand, and felt the space between her and that unlikely field of light dissipate. It was as if her body and the lights had breached their distance for a few moments, hovering together in a dance that was outside of deliberation. When it was done she was weeping. She couldn’t stop crying. She thought of calling him to beg him. He could ground her with his earthy ways. But something was changing. An alteration was taking place. His voice had taken on a new tone.

He was sitting across from her in a track suit. He had returned from the gym with a large ring of keys in his hand, which he fingered incessantly. Sarah listened to him speak.

“Everyone thinks they know the score. Everyone has the angle. For most, it’s money. That’s the American way. If I had X amount of money, I could be free of Y and Z. But most people don’t realize what a terrible burden freedom is. Time that isn’t confined between two walls of compression is as valueless as fresh air or water that comes out of the tap. Time becomes crap. That is one of the reasons you are special.”

“I’m special,” Sarah answered, smiling. “That might be the first time you’ve complemented me.”

“You don’t fall into the traps. You don’t look for it here, or there, of over yonder, you know that it is right here, right now. It’s not over the next rise. It isn’t down in that valley. You won’t find it on the end of some guy’s prick deep inside your pussy. What does it matter, how many pricks you have? They don’t leave a mark. They couple with you and then they leave. What matters is this moment, right now. Be here in this moment. Otherwise, everything else is shit.”

“You talk more than ever.”

“Maybe,” he answered evenly. “My eyes are open. I can see it, whereas before I was chasing my tale. That’s why I like you. You’re like me. You don’t care what happened yesterday and you don’t give a shit about tomorrow. I don’t care if you were gangbanged this morning. All I care about is you, now.”

“You sure know how to sweet talk a girl.”

“Look what I have…” He opened his gym bag. He took out a roll of socks, a syringe and a bag. “Do you have an old spoon? Even a new one? Who gives a fuck, right?”

She could hear his knock. He wasn’t one to knock in multiple times. She heard a peel of knocking and then silence. He gave up quickly. He knew her habits of long absence. She gazed out the window to see him in the street. He jumped into his convertible. He was wearing his Mafia attire: a high navy turtle neck sweater poured into a gold blazer. His mirrored sunglasses glinted. Then he was gone.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Voice of Water IV

In the morning he had left his vest behind. She took it and tossed it with his other cast away garments. Her head felt clear and light. Her body, heavy and leaden. There was no hot water, so when she emerged from the shower, she was shivering. She found a terry cloth towel and wrapped herself but she was still chilled. Then she covered herself with every blanket she could find. But still she felt cold down to her bones. She turned the stove to 500 degrees and sat next to the open door, her teeth chattering and her skin stiff.

“Ya need ta call me, ya havta Sarah, your father is sick…”

Sarah listened to her mother’s messages. They came in a rapid salvo, four in a half hour. Then a day later, another message, swift but plaintive, explaining that her father was home. His heart attack was stress. The doctors ordered him to bed.

Sarah followed her father’s doctor’s advice. She removed her pants and crawled into bed. She realized that she sun was just rising. She smiled at the thought of her world turned upside down as she fell into sleep.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Voice of Water III

Sarah peered into the hall. He was there, in this three piece garment and the wide seventies tie. Under his arm was a briefcase. She let him in and he smiled warmly. He wore his gold rimmed glasses. His silver and rhino tooth cuff links glimmered in the light of the hallway.

“I was in the neighborhood so I thought I’d drop by,” he drawled. He kept the case close to him as he pocketed his glasses.

“I was here yesterday Katz, but you were gone,” he said factually.“That’s just fine. You should take off. Why stay in one spot? I don’t. If you’re not here, I figure, hell, she’s off having a good time. She’s young, attractive. She has that great mane of black curly hair. That serious nose.Those dark blue eyes that fade to black. She can stride into any room and get exactly what she needs. Why not, right?”

“What’s in the briefcase you’re strong-arming?” Sarah asked, ignoring his wide insinuations.

“A little appetizer from a business deal I concluded today.” He laid it flat on the table and snapped it open. A bag of coke stared back at her. She looked at him through narrow eyes.

“It’s been a while,” he said, running a hand through his shorn hair. “How about a snort or two for old time’s sake?”