All The Soul Came Through The Radio

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She had two friends that year, that horrible year, Patty White who was black and Tammy Black who was white and she kept them from each other because that seemed what everyone did. Patty was her first kiss, but she didn’t consider that her first kiss until years later when sitting listening to a gospel group with her fiancé and he mentioned how beautiful the one singer was. She wondered what had happened to Patty.  That woke in her the memory of that first kiss, the confidence in calling it her first kiss. She kept it to herself. Tommy Massanelli was her first boy kiss she’d tell herself going forward.

 

“That one singer, the one all the way to the left she’s beautiful,” he said to her, “I’d love to record them,” and he feinted lifting his phone. Her heart skipped. He didn’t want to see intrusive.

 

“Yeah,” she laughed, “I know,” she demurred. She stifled a cough.

 

But the words carried her away, lifted off the bench simultaneously rooting her to this city but liberating her from it as well out beyond to where there were rules and forms like language, but it was all agreed upon and if someone said up was down it was so because everyone agreed on it. It took just a few seconds or maybe they had been sitting here for some time because immediately afterwards she realized time like language was just a construct to order components of the physical world.

 

The singing was like soul coming through the radio. It was like the soul that came through her radio all those years ago in NJ. Staple Singers, Rose Royce, Rufus with Chaka Khan. She realized we all come so far only to be right where we are. And for that moment she was back in NJ. She listened to soul music, quietly in her room, but only when her parents were on their monthly jaunt into the city to see the Opera, her mother always joked it was spelled with a “Capital O!” They would return with her father tipsy from too many scotch and sodas and her mom loquacious from sloe gin fizzes; it was their one day a month to unwind and relax like common people. She stuffed her robe into the crack under her bedroom door so her bratty little twin sisters couldn’t hear how loud she was playing it.

 

It was Panasonic clock radio tuned into music from the big city east of her and the big city southwest of her. If she had triangulated her position she’d realized now she was further than ever from where she wanted to be or at least thought she thought she wanted to be. She made sure to choose correctly between “further” and “farther”. It made sense. The words made sense when we agreed to them and kept things calm going forward.  She’d look out her window into the farmlands of western New Jersey just over the hedges and golf course to where they receded into the mist of Pennsylvania and knew her life lay elsewhere. Deep down she wished was Black. To be invisible together with a group of people who had Soul and who said exactly what they thought and felt.

 

She loved her soon-to-be-husband very much and felt nothing but a deeper connection to him because of what he said, the word he used; he felt comfortable enough to tell her anything unconditionally. Although he was simply wrong about Whitman –  What if they were paeans to young boys? He asked – but she felt now, in this instant, she was back again where Patty was all that time ago, just as out of place as she was then. It was empathy. The A Capella quintet began Will the Circle Be Unbroken and she thought somehow the circle hadn’t been united, not just yet.

 

It was winter when they really became friends and she always told herself later how she lamented waiting that long using nostalgia to castigate herself rather than for reverie, but she was that way and while it made her gut and heart sink at times she told herself it allowed her to see how we can trudge through the tough times, like all those bad nights in Barcelona with her ex.

 

She had slept over at Patty’s and went to church with her the next morning.  And it was that Sunday afternoon when they kissed. She was attracted to her beauty while Patty said, “What other choice do I have? I like girls, there’s not another black family within 50 miles, and who else in West Jabib, NJ, knows who Rufus is?” She was going to tell Tammy after gym class on Monday but when Tammy made a joke about scrubbing dishes with an afro all she could do was laugh.

 

She was living a lie. Not so far away from it that should couldn’t see it or taste it. And the memory of that kiss blew across her lips like a breeze. She wasn’t quite ready yet. For what she didn’t quite know, didn’t have the words for the nebulous sensation inside her.

 

They went off to dinner, at that Italian place, where he always had too much wine and she never seemed to have enough. She had the strawberry and goat cheese salad with olive oil and vinegar on the side while he had the pear and gorgonzola pizza with balsamic reduction. She paid for the meal quickly while he stopped in the men’s room. It was the least she could do now.

 

They made love later and afterwards she told him she was having her period, so it might be a little bloody. He had never heard her speak so plainly, directly and somewhat indelicately. When he washed her blood off his cock a few minutes later in the shower he realized that was the first time he had ever heard her talk of her cycle or even seen her blood. No errant swipes in the kitchen or a nicked shin from shaving her legs ever before. One time she even mentioned that her blood pressure was 82 over 60. As he stroked his dick clean he wondered if she was even alive – of course she was, he just couldn’t control himself sometimes and wore his emotions on his sleeve. When he returned to bed her back was to him. “Everything ok?” he asked. “Uh-uh,” she said flatly, “Just tired, have a big day tomorrow.”

 

Begin At The End

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Life often moved between two states, here and now, here or there, before and after. After a while it could either blur together or track on parallel lines with the only point of reference being one’s senses if they could be trusted. It was a matter of what you believe or better yet what you choose to believe. He believed it was Sunday simply because he had to as the kids crept tentatively into his bedroom early in the morning, still shaking off some sleep, recalling his promise to go to the park that morning. They reminded him of two sides of a coin: each side won. He believed it was Sunday with all his heart.

“Did you dream?” he asked.

“No,” said his younger son.

“I can’t remember,” said the older boy.

It was an autumnal spring day, another contradiction in a world of increasing contradictions, and he sat on a park bench waiting to be drenched in its synthesis, ever vigilant with donuts, coffee, juice boxes and a broad perspective of the playground in his vision to protect against any interlopers or ne’er do wells who entertained thoughts of corrupting the idyll of a weekend morning with his sons. He returned to his ongoing debate about which axiom held more gravitas in today’s complex ever changing world of domestic artifice – “It’s all about the journey, not the destination” or “It’s not where you start but where you finish” but something wouldn’t let him, something on a more self-referential level.

It was that some men were “ass men” or “breast men”, what they liked, what they wanted, what they didn’t have at home. He wondered, he was full of wonder at times, wonder and doubt wrestling for his thoughts, how many men realized they might not even want a woman who had no qualms being thought of like that? Or would they? Or did each care only if who they desired thought such thoughts?

– Hi honey I’m home.

How was work today?

Boss man whipped me like a rented mule.

Oh, baby, I’m sorry.

How’s my baby’s ass or legs or breasts?

Lonely baby, lonely for you baby… –

It really didn’t all come down to the journey or the destination but who you liked and who liked you. And then what you were willing to put up with in between and then, then ultimately what you were able to leave behind. Much like dreaming, it could seem so real though you had no choice what might appear and only waking up saved you, if you could wake up. Was walking out waking up? Subtracting the “l” from one word could make all the difference. Personally, he was a hand and eye man, looking first at the ring finger on the left hand then trying for eye contact; a nice body always helped too.

“Feels like fall has returned….” she began, “Doesn’t it?”

She wore gloves, sunglasses and a red wool coat against the morning chill.

“Or arrived early,” he countered realizing at once how his objective nature may appear contrary instead, “But it’s nice, it’s my favorite time of the year so it’s nice to go back in time.”

“Or forward,” she laughed

He began to question reality by testing a loose tooth in his mouth, a practice he had had just started. His teeth always told him the truth, sometimes disconcertingly. If they were cracking like porcelain in his mouth he would do his best to let the initial fear pass and then knew he was

only dreaming. But his #8 central incisor had loosened recently. It was the last victim of random violence from years ago yet to succumb to replacement, so he appreciated and respected its prescience, almost hated to see it go since it was a token of the Universe’s dispassionate violence that could visit us when least expected.  But it was no match for an overcooked onion ring. So, he tasted it with his tongue, pushing it back and forth painlessly but feeling it scrape against its neighbor and sucking down a vacuum that filled with hopeless entertainments of candied apples never to be tasted again. He knew it was living on borrowed time and his tender nudging only sped its inevitable demise but if it remained he knew what was happening was true and not just between his ears.

She was authentic. Perhaps the accessories, the glasses, gloves and coat made her even more transparent than her words but what could happen if they were removed and her physical self was revealed, what then? Could some cross-eyed hump-backed hag with twisted, age-spotted paws be lurking beneath the suburban mom apparel? And goddamn why hadn’t he seen her here before? They’d been coming here a good six months and while the cast itself seemed to change (though the names of the children never did: Jake, Madeline, Noah, Isabella) she said they always enjoyed the park on a Sunday morning after church even though it was a bit out of the way for her and the kids. Had she herself escaped from someone’s memory if only for a

brief respite from being locked inside a dead man’s dream? He made a glossal inquiry and there it was, his tooth: reality at the tip of his tongue.

“It’s so nice to see them play,” she said.

“If all life was a game…” he mused poking the ellipses into the air.

“Don’t I know it,” her daughter approached, “Yes sweetie I’ll be on the teeter totter in a sec, ok?”

“Growing up we called them see-saws and would play a game called “what will you give me?”. We’d keep the other kid up in the air until they could offer something worthwhile, a lifetime supply of bubble gum, to do all our homework, anything to let them come down and then it was our turn. And if we didn’t like the offer we’d drop the other kid flat on his a…behind,” he

remembered out loud.

“Oh, cute” she said not without sarcasm. “You can learn a lot by playing games”.

“Why does it stop?”

“It doesn’t, it only changes.”

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.”

“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” she replied, and then went to play with her daughter.

Back in the car he looked in his rear-view mirror as he backed out of the playground parking lot and smiled, his tongue searching for the wiggle in his tooth.  Instead he saw his son seated in the back, his face downcast in thought.

“Dad?” his older son began, “If a priest is married to God and a God is a boy does that mean that

God is gay?”

“I don’t think of God as being all that gender-specific,” he mused evasively.

His son sniffled. Looking through the car window the boy saw morning’s autumn feint transforming into a legitimate spring day. He pushed a button to roll down his window then put his hand out gently, testing the rush of air, trying to catch some in his cupped hand.

“Dad, can we get some ice cream?” the older boy asked.

“Ice cream?” he asked, “At 10:30 in the morning?” he asked with insincere incredulity.

His younger son laughed, “Yeah!”

His older son laughed, “Yeah!”

“Sure thing, buddies.”