Issue 103, Summer 1987
Marguerite took her show on the road, a last tour, to end at the Capitol, where the senior senator from Rhode Island had arranged a performance for the combined Houses. Outside of Wheeling, Marguerite pulled off the highway and climbed into the back of the van, where she pulled her arrival costume from a plastic bag in the drawer numbered L She changed in the brief moment it took a tractor-trailer truck to approach the van, rush by with a dramatic waffling of winds, and reduce itself to a small square ahead, which continued reducing itself to the east. It’s possible the driver never saw the van, with its sides and doors painted the legendary colors and shapes of Blue Ridge Mountain.
Over the years. Marguerite had found innovative ways to transport her props and equipment, even the most elaborate sets, in the small compartments of the van, which she painted and repainted in rented garages, city to city. In interviews. Marguerite acknowledged the van as an accomplice, nondescript, the one which effected the fabulous disappearances she’d managed all her life. She didn’t acknowledge much else.
Rhode Island claimed Marguerite, because the state figured so fully in her performances; but the archives revealed no record of birth or residence there, and Marguerite preferred to ignore specifics. “I’m a genetic maelstrom,” she said. “I was spat from a pond’s eye.”Or sometimes she said, “I was spat from my mother’s eye.”
And she looked it.
In her arrival costume, a dragonfly draping arrangement of fabrics and papers, whoever she was in herself was no longer a matter of interest. There was no discerning. She worked her own metamorphoses, not with the leisure of nature, but with the jolt and high-voltage twist of machinery, a shock like the stamping of sheet metal into a car door, the electronic ping of soldering, microscopic — a mime of state-of-the-art technologies. Her paraphernalia folded and self-compacted, and opened up at a touch. Marguerite called herself, in some states. Marguerite Origami, she had such skill, such constructive know-how. Engineers working to make it big in the popup book business studied her sets; and it was with as much generosity as arrogance that in book towns Marguerite flung out some of her work into the crowd, the miniature pieces with smooth, curved edges and a fullness of body, the texture of skin, the folds and collapses of paper—and the engineers said it was paper—imperceptible.
But elsewhere, her posters announced: Marguerite Landmine; Marguerite Prefab; Marguerite Rhode Island.
Crossing the new and reconstituted Tuscarora Range, with its elaborate hangings and camouflages, with its wide-spanning palm-like pines developed for the East, Marguerite felt the pain in her legs that had recently signaled trouble. First came the hints, the alarms, of the pain, and then up from the feet, an encroaching blankness, a loss of touch. She slowed the van and kicked each leg at the knee. The nutmeg, autumnal scent of her boots lifted through the wrappings of costume. The pain held off. She pressed the accelerator to the floor.
Housing developments, roof to roof, under the palm and finger pines, slurred by the window, and driveways blinked short spans of asphalt, broken lines on either side. The van streamed down the road, a bit of scenery on the loose. This was the way Marguerite advised her fans to travel, in the guise of landscape, since there was none; in the recollection of Rhode Island, the ancient place, whose name now had assumed such mystery.
Marguerite was speeding. Soon enough she heard the sirens of police in pursuit. She exercised her knees once more, and pressed the accelerator with renewed force. In the rearview mirror, however, she saw it was not the police, not a battery, but one motorcycle cop, and she adjusted the mirror for a better look. She eased her foot from the pedal.
What she thought she had seen, she easily verified: the cop wore no ballooning helmet, no gloves. He was not regulation. She watched his fingers comb and push at his hair, which was long enough to blow in strips across his face. His motorcycle veered with this gesture, and she saw, instantaneously, as if she had contrived it herself, the steel plates of the motorcycle snap into gold, a textured gold, like the straw of old hats, the straw still found in the last barns, in the deserts.
Marguerite pulled onto the shoulder. She watched in the mirror. “Little van, he’s a beauty,” she said. She could see the flesh on his wrists. She hummed to herself, “Oh, Rhode Island . . . dum de dum . . .”
He parked the motorcycle behind the van and loosened his orange police vest, straightened his shoulders. In the rearview mirror. Marguerite watched as he raised an arm and waved at her, like a boy, in that circle. She watched his hair blow around his face in the gusts from passing vehicles, and she noticed he touched the side of the van as he approached, as a person might touch, tentatively, a pond surface nowadays, to test if the pond were a water pond.
At her window, he said, “They told me you couldn’t be stopped.” He put his hands on the window ledge, all of his fingers inside the van, and Marguerite breathed on them.
“That’s right, I can’t,” she said.
“You’re still on your way, then,” he said, and he extended one hand inside the van, towards her hand, the old-fashioned greeting.
Marguerite took his hand, and the fragrance of skin, so much more complicated than any perfuming, swept through the van, and she leaned back in the seat, to inhale. The boy, too, pulled back for a second, and then pressed his other hand over hers and breathed an open-mouth breath, like a sigh.
“You haven’t lost your senses!” Marguerite said.
“No!” he said, his voice hushed, abruptly.
“Get in!” she said.
With the windows rolled up, the traffic outside withdrew, a muffled sound, distant, oceanic, with tidal approaches and declines. The boy took off the orange police vest, and they sat there, apart, touching each other’s arms, the fine hair on the arms. With both hands, each pressed the skin along the curve of the other’s jaw, and touched the ridged, tendoned sides of the neck, following the collar bone’s slight angle until the skin warmed towards the center of the body, and the fingers of their hands met there, pendant, and Marguerite’s arms and the boy’s arms lay beside each other, between each other, like the lengths of bodies.
When Marguerite opened the boy’s shirt, it shook in her hands and crumpled away into folds, like her own fabrications, designed not for wear but for dismantling. The boy pulled the thread on her shoulder which separated her costume into its patterned sections, and lightweight, the papers settled against the door, blown there by their breathing. Every breath, though easy and silent, brought with it the rustle of onionskin, feather, crepe paper, and foil.
“I knew your skin would be like this,” he said, and he pressed his cheek against her belly. He took her hands and wound them around his back until the palms of her hands, on their own, felt their way along his spine and down the sides of his back, down his thighs.
They rolled themselves into the open space, the small room of the van.
“You are scenic!” Marguerite said. And she traced the veins in his arms the way she had traced on antique maps the rivers of Rhode Island.
When they kissed, the boy touched the slope of her breasts and the ledge of her knees. And he said, “I have dreamed the prairies I’ve seen in books. I’ve walked through them.”
“Yes,” she said, “Such kisses. We could have traveled! But I’m old, you can see it. My legs are beginning to lose touch.”
He rubbed her legs, he wrapped them in his. They stretched out beside each other and worked themselves into and out of tangles. They languished; they kept pace. All afternoon, the noise of their bodies continued, primordial, with something of rock and something of water in it.
Outside, to the passing traffic, the van and the motorcycle, in their fantastic colorations, appeared, if they appeared at all, like a billboard, a painted picture of bygones — a straw bale in a field, and there, as backdrop, the shadow, the rise of Blue Ridge Mountain.