Issue 86, Winter 1982
Angela. I love what you left behind. Your scent, melony, yet sharp and immaculate as yogurt. Your diaphragm, placed, according to the promise, in my nightstand drawer as a token of fidelity. And the pearls. The pearls.
I started finding them this evening, just after I got home. I’d expected a note. To be frank, I’d expected a present. You are such a maniac for gifts. So I entered the apartment in double-edged anticipation: dreading your absence, but looking forward to the surprise you’d planned, the particular way you had chosen to make yourself remembered. Of course, I found nothing at first, and read it symbolically. Leaving no remembrances was a way of saying "forget me." I felt greedy, and abashed. If I didn’t deserve nothing you wouldn’t have left me nothing, right? Stomach creeping, I went to the bathroom to wash my face. And there found the first pearl.
It lay in the basin, such a match for the white enamel that it looked like pan of the fixture. I picked it up and rolled it between my thumb and finger. Recognized it: one of the cheap imitations from that ultra long strand of yours, those impossibly opalescent pellets that reached, unwound, from your neck to your ankles. The sight of it made my blood jump. It carried such an image of you, naked, belted at the waist by pearls which bit lightly into your flesh, emphasizing its softness and its resiliency. I saw no design behind a pearl in my sink, was sufficiently slow-witted to chalk it up to accident. How does one accidentally lose a single pearl? I scrubbed my face and went to the kitchen to mix a drink.
The second pearl lay in the tumbler I took from the cabinet. Immediately, I saw your mind, ticking off my particular traffic patterns, and your hand, paint-smeared and raw, holding a pearl. My apartment was full of pearls. Beautiful. You are simple and wily as a geisha.
As of bedtime, I have found seventy-three of them. At the outset, I giddily ransacked the place like a kid hunting Easter eggs, snatching up all the easy ones. The ones in kitchen cabinets, all the prizes in wine goblets and coffee cups, and then those from the living room: a pearl in each plant, pearls in the bookshelves, a row of pearls balanced on the molding over the door. Did you intend that as an arch for me to pass unwittingly under? Of course you did. You intend everything you do.
I uncovered a few of the trickier ones, those behind paintings and the ones in light fixtures. Then I decided to knock off. I wanted to draw out the process, to know for another day or two that vestiges of you remained hidden around me. The pearls I did find I heaped in the center of the bed: gleaming there, they looked unutterably womanish. Are pearls considered emblems for the clitoris? I ask, because I suspect you’d know.
I went to bed early, in your honor, and, washing myself, found three more: one in the bathtub faucet (very clever), one in the soap dish, and the one that dolloped out of my toothpaste tube (how did you ever get it in there?). This brings the total to seventy-six. I must be nearing the end of the strand.
My thoughts and devotions to you, sweetheart. Is it as damp and wind-bitten as we imagined? Don’t worry. Six months isn’t long. Meanwhile, I wait for you, here in my pearl-studded flat.
Morning. I found a couple more right off, in the pockets of my robe. And the one in the coffee. That one presented itself in an especially lovely way. I had scooped the grounds into a filter, and poured water through, then found a pearl, lodged among the scum like a treasure left by the tide on a dirty beach. Beautiful. I’m afraid the one in the toaster was not quite such a good idea. It melted, and released some kind of smoke I suspect may have been poisonous. At first I thought it was the toast burning, and extracted it, to find another pearl, heated to a teardrop, clinging to the crust. You can’t imagine the smell. Do you suppose they synthetic pearls?
At any rate, I am stirred and delighted. Have you found the present I hid in your suitcase? It was the warmest I could find. The clerk said nothing is as warm as Irish wool. And to me, even the name "Yale" sounds cold. If I were assigned that word in charades, I would opt for "sounds like," and pantomime a gale: neck-snapping wind, snow blown into needles. I hated giving you up to that, that cold breathy "Y" and that long "a," slippery as ice. Remember that it will be good for your painting. I considered calling you this morning, but decided to honor our pact. Instead I sat in the apartment, in the robe you gave me, and practiced sending scenic telepagrams: you and I together, several years from now, on an island off Canada, a luminous place imbued with that pale gray northern light, sharing kitchen and bedroom but maintaining separate studios, where our paintings prosper like crops. Did you receive the image? After trying to send that, I must admit that I worked on a few private ones, things not suited to cross-country transmissions. Those hips and thighs of yours. That dense overripe jungle. Your bigness makes me swell. I love you more for not being pretty, for the gaunt determination of your face and the grimness of your mouth. You are cold and luscious as the moon. Your images engaged me so that I was late getting off for class, ran out of the apartment unshaven, with a pearl in each jacket pocket and, as I realized halfway down the stairs, too late to do anything about it, a pearl in my left shoe.
My classes slumped along as usual. How is it possible for undergraduates to produce such rigid, unfeeling lines? They are not unfeeling people. But I couldn’t draw anything so dead if I tried. There’s not a half-dozen like you per generation. Your sense of volume, those delicate, bottomless grays. And you always know just where to cut. My favorite is still the velvety little mouse-colored painting, slashed across by that seething comet’s tail of green. I’d associated limpid green with hospital corridors. Only you could have given that color teeth.
Don’t lose your bite, angel. Watch out for the enemy: the infernal Five Sections. Five sections of drawing and mixed media, undergraduate division, can dull you like a diet of oily, overcooked food. If you hadn’t turned up at this cow college, and made my life opalescent, I might be dead by now of indigestion.