Chs 11 & 12 (with poem excerpts), “Mental” by Marie K Johnston

 

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Chapter 11

In a push of exhaled breath, she

throws back her head to the sky;

her chest, arms and face begin to whirl

beneath nature’s canvas, and she cries:

 

“Let loose the tendrils of sorrow,

nourishment from sun I borrow;

against this day, my soul does thrive—

it is a joy to be alive!”

 

Her open mouth tastes of the sweet brine

that floats from the gentle sea;

barefoot circles in the sand design

her lifelong philosophy:

 

“With each moment upon the earth,

I will rejoice in this—my birth;

my sensate being will be free

to feel all that this life can be.”

 

Squinting at the painting, Evelyn backed up so that her eyes could connect the intricacies of texture and shading into field, flower, sky.  She realized her breath had been held, perhaps by the hand that had transformed silent paint into an explosion of life.  The transformation amazed her, but would it have gone unnoticed if this painting were not hanging serenely from the smooth marble walls of a museum?  She recalled something a professor once said that if someone secretly switched the Mona Lisa with a computerized replica, people would not realize the difference and remain overwhelmed by the sight of Da Vinci’s “brushstrokes.”

Out of habit she reached to adjust her hat, an overgrown chauffeur’s cap made of electric blue velvet.  She had worn it daily for as long as she could remember. There it would rest patiently upon her head or in her satchel, quietly collecting ideas until a frothing boil of inspiration would shock through to her hand, which would then instinctively shoot up to the vibrant blue brim.  It was a subconscious gesture that made her friends smile, her boss edgy and strangers raise their eyebrows at the girl enthralled by a traffic light, a closed cafe or a painting.

On her way out of the museum, she tore a piece of gum in half and slid it into her mouth.  Cool metal kissed her flesh for an instant before the door opened and a thick, oppressive humidity soaked into her.  Steam rose from the shallow puddles on the sidewalk; she laughed softly as she stomped both feet into a little puddle, cracking her pensive expression into a myriad of flying drops.  An elderly man walking towards the doorway gave Evelyn a sideways glance that made her want to laugh.

 

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She did not mind walking alone.  It was peaceful, if she chose it to be, but the luxury of choosing was the intoxicating thing about it.  She could go wherever she pleased, without consulting the whims of a companion.  Evelyn needed the freedom of singular steps; it enabled her to observe the world around her without reserve.  She decided that the thing she liked best about herself was how freely she lived.  In this vein of thought, it often happened that she would exclaim out loud, either to herself or someone nearby each time she saw something on one of her excursions that delighted her.  She wished to find herself delighted often; and so, she often did.

Her cumbersome leather boots, oversized and bought on impulse at a vintage clothes store, sparkled in the misty sunlight while she waited for white neon permission to cross the street.  She glanced down at their extensive laces and brownness, reminding herself to pick up her feet to avoid tripping.  Walk flashed the small box.  An oldish woman dressed in a navy pantsuit spun the handle of her navy umbrella as she stepped off the sidewalk on navy high heels.  Two young lovers kissed in a white convertible, oblivious to time at the red lighted hiatus.  Evelyn smiled with her eyes, lips and cheeks, glanced at the sky, and passed the lovers’ embrace; her carefree step overtook the clatter of high-heeled patter upon cemented gravel.  Her smile remained and she gave it to the familiar sight of Lee leaning against the garden wall of someone else’s yard, his old guitar slung over his shoulder and used as an armrest.

“Distracted woman, walking down the street…” called Lee, her college boyfriend.

“Hey,” she laughed, reaching to shake the crepe myrtle branch above his head, spilling tiny rain-heavy lavender blossoms and their contents upon him.  Tender thunderstorm, she thought-said, kissing his wet nose gently and walking forward, glancing back to see him brushing his shirt clean.

 

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His hand, the one that was not resting upon his guitar case, slipped into hers.  She looked at him, their eyes locking while an impassioned Vivaldi serenade brushed through her mind, enticing her to love the earth-scented musician who walked next to her.  So close that his left leg almost brushed her right one, and he thought-said,” You smell like the Rain Goddess, you look as if you’ve just emerged from one of the puddles in the Johansen’s garden.  How could I resist you?’

And I you, was Evelyn’s reply.  They went along the sidewalk, and every so often he leaned over to touch her neck or ear with his lips.

He had enough muscle on his thin frame to suggest a steady flow of small time success.  He played the harmonica like a bird sang, inspired by the wind; and when he exhaled his inspiration, he gave others an inspiration of their own.  Or at least she thought so, being so very biased. He could be so peaceful—once she had found him by the windowsill sitting Indian-style, his gray eyes caught in tranquil ease and reflecting the sunlight like twin lucid pools.  And his laughter could reverberate through her with a clear ring of truth that is only felt by true split-aparts, just like the music he wrote. With the help of time they had come to share a bond without stipulation or restriction, an understanding that lavished honesty and security upon them both.  He understood without asking her why she did things and she understood him that way, too.

“Oh, I almost forgot, I brought you something…” she rummaged through her worn leather satchel, pulling out a much creased and folded postcard—black and white and kept in her copy of Wuthering Heights since she first read it when she was twelve, nearly nine years ago.  It was a couple in a cafe, ignoring the world beyond their arms’ reach.  She had found it while rummaging through boxes at a garage sale.  It had been stuck between the joining folds of a cardboard box, almost hidden…but the postcard woman’s face and the postcard man’s face had evoked in her a dull pang, a slow longing like a flame licking at an expensive matchbook.  She had planned to share such a glamorously unrealistic, romantic photo with someone who spoke through his eyes to make her feel the way she imagined the postcard woman must have felt, if even for the briefest moment.  On her first entire night with Lee she awoke to find him out on her small balcony with his feet propped towards moonlight and her worn copy of The Fountainhead in his lap.  She had run her hand through his wind blown hair, snuggling against him.  There they sat until first light, peach dawn, and morning all moved into night’s territory. Evelyn knew these were the things she had wanted and waited for; and what she had imagined as the postcard light, she felt inside her.

Lee took the card from her and seeing in her eyes that it was more than just a postcard, he looked through the crinkled paper and said, “Wonderful how this is us and so much less than us.”  He kissed her hand and paused for the briefest moment to close his eyes and breathe in her skin. She did the same thing. He turned the corner, and Evelyn continued home.

 

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Chapter 12

Sun shines amber through her hair;

and her tender eyes glow,

as the infinite ocean’s air

imparts to her what it knows:

 

“When I first saw, my eyes did see

only my own clear water’s leighs;

then upon the shore I crashed,

all horizon being ash.

 

“Eons passed, shore and I as one;

living beings around us, none.

But from our union there conceived

a single spark from which Life weaved.

 

“Burst from our love were sun and star,

soaring above us, to afar;

from my arms, our miracle shone

into human form, flesh and bone.

 

“Descendant of the sea and shore,

who also owns a mortal core:

inhale each moment, confident

that you will see all Life has meant.”

 

The sea’s breath whispers from a distance,

slipping into her ears;

and she decides that not a hindrance

will invade her living years.

 

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She found herself upon her balcony, and scooping up her soft crinkly skirt from the near-ground and up to her knees, she settled back in a chair and crossed her legs.  The finicky weather had turned breezy, and it softly pushed at her page.  Wondering where Virginia Woolf had written The Voyage Out, Evelyn imagined her profiled against the sea in a wooden lounging chair, with the gulls above and the sandy shore standing monument to her burning brilliance.  Evelyn tasted a salty brine in her throat, wishing in the back of her mind for Virginia’s voice to explain life and death and longing to her.

Pen and page connected Evelyn to the cycle of continuous energy that connected the flower petals and tree bark and falling leaves. She began to use places in her mind that were reserved for things her present body had not known, the windows allowing in experiences greater than those that were hers alone.  She slipped comfortably into this state, became all that she had been and was and might be in a drawn sequence that once realized would dissipate back into the air around her with a snap of unseen fingers.  She would recall a feeling of weightlessness that afternoon—a kind of weightlessness that brought happiness into her eyes, it was satisfying to do the work you loved. She was trying to work out why she sometimes felt so happy and then other times felt the same intensity of emotion, but it was sadness. She couldn’t understand why, even though she thought of herself as a hopeful person, she could still travel so far beneath the earth’s crust and wallow there in the hot darkness.

 

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Darkness was falling.  The air was becoming diffused with a deep violet that lingered above the sidewalk, muffling footsteps, dilating gas lamps.  Evelyn flipped her wrist to catch the time; then remembering that she never wore a watch, she smiled.  Catherine walked out onto Evelyn’s balcony with an apron tossed over her shoulder, and forced the humidity-expanded door to lock.  She pulled two long and swinging earrings from her front pocket, and with a tilted face she walked towards her next-door neighbor, assembling one crimson glass ornament and then the other.

“Milady Evelyn…where have you gone?” she said, snapping her fingers.  The wind had blown Evelyn’s hair and ashed her forgotten cigarette, turning her into a twilight statue.  “I figured you had lost track of time, so I came over to get you.  We’ll be late, did you forget about seeing Lee tonight?”

“I was just thinking… do you think that I’m happy? Do you think you are?”  Evelyn lit another cigarette and exhaled as she leaned back in her chair.

Catherine sat down next to her, and put her face in her hands, thinking.  “Yeah, for the most part, I am.”

“So am I…but do you ever want more?”

“What do you mean, more?”

“Oh, I don’t know—I mean, more than this…like it’s good but not good enough?  I want something else, and I don’t know what it is or how to get it.  You know, the kind of life you hoped you’d have when you were younger and didn’t know what to expect, I guess?”  Catherine noticed the energy beneath Evelyn’s brows, there was a calm self-assurance in her words that led Catherine to notice Evelyn’s idealism in a new way.

“Not really, I think things are fine.  I like my job, and I have good friends, and the city is great.  My apartment needs some work, and I could use a raise, but other than that I feel fine.  Are you okay?”

Evelyn knew that she and Catherine did not see things, see life, in the same way. “Oh, yeah…I didn’t have to work today, which was great.  Maybe I’ve just gotten restless lately, like I’ve outgrown something or like there’s something on the tip on my tongue but I can’t remember it, you know?”

 

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