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The Woman

ISSUE:  Summer 1977

The Woman is not The Answer. So says the worthy Jirac speaking before our little group last night, and I, being in The State, so to speak, was stunned into clarity. It was as we say in the old country the falling away of the heavy coat in the first heat of spring. It was a time for listening. It was time for me to hear what he had to say. I was ready. The Woman is not The Answer. I listened and the breathing within my chest eased. For the first time in months the air did not seem foul and thick like a carpet in my mouth. Also my ears popped. Also I found brightness in the light before my eyes. Life had become technicolor. I pounded my fist on the bench and the man next to me looked up. I begged his pardon. He looked strange at me, you can imagine. His eyes full of suddenness and fear. But after a second, when he saw the light in my own eyes, he smiled and said, It’s cool, man. He meant, I think, no harm was done. Jirac at the podium frowned and halted only momentarily in his speech, which major thrust of was Unloveliness in Liberation Not of The Spirit.

At home my own dear Penelope weaves the clothing and molds the clay we will fire in the kiln I built of stolen brick. Yes, stolen. Don’t pay the cheats a nickel for such ugly brick, Leo, not a nickel. I paid not a nickel, not even a penny. So proud my own Penny. Out into the night she sends me, night after night, with a sack for the bricks to be carried home on my massive masculine shoulders. A political act, she tells me over and over, thereby melting the steelness of my doubts. This night, the kiln finished and the fire therein burning hot, she sent me off for culture. Hear the countryman. It will clean out your head of the television. For Penelope everyone on television is a spider. The screen is the web. You see that already. I am the fly. So wise, my wife. My Pennyperfect I sometimes call her, when the soup is especially rich in lentils and barley and the meat fresh from Safeway. That name rings of security and trust. I will do anything for her then, maybe always, even after The Battle, Otherwise known as The Devastation. When truly bloody, we call it The End. But in the silence that follows we hold back our giggles with a hand on the mouth. Sometimes I stay up until dawn baking bread for my Pennyperfect. It is The Joy to see her at the little table, coffee in one hand and in the other a lovely piece of my bread, warm, smokey, and alive with soft cheese. I bring her prunes and apricots too and jelly of the grape.

Thus the appearance of happiness. I emphasize appearance. Also until now. Now I am hearing Jirac’s assertion: The Woman is not The Answer. I am thinking too. By her own words Penelope has made The Revelation. Talking the other night, all night, chopping garlic and ginger root. The beasts are happy, she says, until they have man and they think they were not happy without man. She was in The Deep Reflection, saying: The aborigines think they are happy, no? Until the missionaries arrive. Then they learn they have not been happy. They learn they have no right to happiness. This she explained to me in great detail with examples of suffering and torture and different names for god. Also the role of women in righteousness. God is no longer a man, she says. Today she is a woman, I am thinking, Ah ha, the sex change operation so popular has its roots in the divine? I am thinking that, but do not speak. It is not a time for the light touch. Her hands are stinking from the garlic and she is not happy. It is this way with her always at chopping time, We do the garlic and ginger only once every four months, when the moon is full. It is an odious job. Odious is a very old word in our adopted language. It is a word I have come to love. I used to use it all the time. Now I have stopped so it can regain once more its market value. It is clear, of course, that what she is getting at is very stupid. That too I will not tell her. She takes pride in what she is, as the natives of this good country take pride in what they are. Their opposite number also takes pride in what they are. From where I sit, I watch them all and see they are very stupid in their pride since what they are depends only on The Accident. Or The Crumble as it is best translated from my mother tongue. The Crumble of The Great Loaf. So she goes on and now she is telling me of my happiness because of her presence but as I already stated, the air I was breathing was not so good. My health was not what it should be. I am a man of great stature and all my people live into their hundreds. It is true, yes. I should feel well all the time. But my joints ached. I had pains across the brow. Difficulty hearing I already told you. Correct? And I’m not even mentioning the plumbing. Here and here.

I looked happy. I acted happy. I smiled and joked and sang the old songs: When Dishna met Sovarin, there the story goes/Happy were the folksies throwing up their woes. Et cetera. Also: In your dress of silver, skin of apricot/I placed my fingers on your cheek, your knee, and what not. Et cetera also. Penelope laughed. She loves to hear me sing. She loves the songs, it is true, and sometimes a pearl rolls from her eye. But what she loves most is my happiness at being with her. You understand that, I think. I have it in my heart to forgive her, but only on certain conditions. First she must acknowledge the truth. All of it. I insist. It must be so. Otherwise—I am pointing my finger at the door. That is the most terrible gesture a man can make in the old country. Here the finger is used differently, of course. In the old country pointing the finger means: Out the door, go! Out the door in the old country there is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Ice, maybe. Sometimes soldiers. With guns, you bet, and a passing interest in a woman’s private places which they think is not meant to be so private. Pointing the finger, you get it? Now it has come about. I hear it from his lips. This Jirac from the old country. The Woman is not The Answer. What was I thinking all these years? Goodbye phoney happiness; hello, Leo, my old friend. Pennyperfect, I have The News for you. You’re not going to like this. There’s a new crumb in the crumble. Yes, sir. I will tell her and she will submit. There will be no more stealing by me. I am not political. She is political. I will allow that. A free country, this. If she wants to be political, she can do the stealing. Also, I do not care about the sex of god.

But what now? What is he saying? His own Sonia. . . . Sonia? Sonia! Ah! His Sonia. Can it be? Is it possible? What wasn’t possible? If so, then. . . . Forgive me. I make The Leap: We are enslaved. There is nothing but enslavement. Which means: The Woman is The Answer. This Sonia, if not the woman of The Memory, still she conjures The Woman. You get it? And with The Woman, The Pain. His Sonia? My Sonia! My country, my life. My woman! I am telling you of the darkness of life, my friends. This Pennyperfect is the imperfect second choice. A woman who is good with her hands in many ways more than the throwing of the clay and the stitching of the socks. Many is the night the aches of existence are rubbed from these massive muscular shoulders by those hands. Also she has knocked out a mugger or two here on the streets of our adopted country. Also she can give The Hug like no one else, Still, here, in this head, rumbles the memory of The Woman of The Past, of The Great Loss. Sonia, Sonia, your sweet Lev cannot forget. Why did you leave me on the banks of the river of love? You, Jirac, Silence!

Ah! And so, he’s saying, The Woman is The Condition. What would the world be without her? The Condition, The Source, The Well-Spring, The Heart, The Present Tense, The Tool, The Link, The Hinge, The Idea, The Form, The Balm, The Antibiotic, The Heat, The Safe, The Night, The Nourishment, The Stitch-in-time. However, says Jirac, she thinks. Therefore then there is The Danger, Thus we live our higher and lower lives at once. What? What was that? We live The Condition and The Metaphor for The Condition at the same time. What is he talking about? I have not the grasp of this new language he has. But what? My head came off in my hand. We say that in the old country. The head coming off indicating it has thrown itself on your mercy. Also it means there is too much weight in it for it to stay afloat. Jirac the philosopher! I hate philosophy. It is ignoble. Another old word of the adopted language. I especially like the ig. I have learned a great deal here. Right now, however, I am wishing for The Tea and little cakes with cold cherries on top. Also, I admit, for the presence of Penelope. Her Ulysses wants to go home. The cave of the cyclops is foul with the giant’s filth. I say this so you will know I am not unread. Also so you will see I have the brain of my own. I hold my head up to hear him better. Actually it is still on my neck. I say it this way to continue the idea. It is a literary thing. The life you lead is The Life, he is saying. The Woman who waits at home—one way or the other (what do you mean by that, Jirac?)—is The Woman. The Condition. Yours. For you. Alone. There are men, he says, who want to change that. . . . What? Was he talking about me? Was that possible? How could he know? Unless he knows about Sonia. Of course. Sonia was Sonia! My head fell to the floor. Someone stepped on my nose. A wad of old bubble gum was jammed in my ear. I am elaborating the previous notion, you understand. For all the good it did me, the head was still in its usual place. Sometimes I think the head is not the best instrument for dealing with things in this life. When I can I will let my opinion be known to the authorities. I think an adjustment should be made. The carburetor maybe.

The future, so saying one Jirac of the old country, is into which each step takes us. I say that at the risk of being obvious. How we step is what we must know. You have The Condition. You have the mind of man. . . . Wait, wait a minute. I don’t have The Sonia. Rather I have my Penelope. At home, now, waiting for me. Maybe too the cherries with cake underneath. Maybe also hot tea. Maybe some of the brandy she hides high in the cupboard. Also maybe a kind word and a little peeky-peeky at her thigh flesh. Something she does for me when I have The Mood. Is that The Condition, Jirac? Lev, she says, what do you see here? I look up. Or down. Lev, what do you see now? I reach out but of course she is at once out of range. I stand. She lifts her skirt an inch higher and there is The Flesh. White stripe above brown stocking, I take a step. She giggles. The stripe of white broadens. Another step. She giggles. Another bit of paste connecting leg to loin. I inch closer. She giggles, laughs, pulls her skirt over her face and drops it at once, but not before I get a glimpse of The It. Then the chase is on. I reach but she is behind the chair. I dive over it, land on my face and the chair comes up over me. She is standing on the sofa, jumping up and down, waving her skirt, a flag with many messages. Her big heels dig into the cushions and a puff of dust rises around her ankles, also big. I get up, pull down my shirt and fix my collar. I am coming, my Pennyperfect. Here I am. Peeky-peeky, she says. I leap for her again, attempting The Tackle. This has happened before. The first time it worked. I watched the boys on TV. How they lunged and tackled. I learned from them the way I learn so much already from the citizens of this my adopted country. So it worked, then. But not now. Now she is the snaky runner, as they say, and is gone downfield. I come up red in the face. She is laughing too loud now. The neighbors will hear. I am humiliated. Ah, Jirac, I see: The Condition! Nevertheless I go on. She is running, I am chasing. What is the goal! Her wonderful old country breasts swing with old country majesty. Something of mine is doing some swinging too, and not without majesty, I want you to know, Penny, my love, my second choice, knows it too. Yes, this is The Game. Sometimes she lets me win. After I am bloody and lumped all over. We are reminded of The Battle. But then maybe I am in her great arms and she is giving me The Kiss. Sometimes I get close and am about to win on my own account. This she cannot allow. She bangs me in my belly with The Fist. I cannot hit her, that being a rule. I have many pictures of hitting her, Not only now. Many many many. Very often. I am ashamed of the pictures I carry in this head, about which I have complaints, as I told you. So I lose the game. Maybe then she lets me in her arms. Peeky-peeky is the way it ends. It begins so, it ends so. But with a grunt and some sickness. And here is Jirac saying, You know and you understand. What about tomorrow, my dear friends? he asks, this sometimes acquaintance of the old country, who now plays two-handed poker with someone called Sonia, a name I seem to remember. Tomorrow, I think. My head is a pincushion, a footstool, a welcome mat. You have The Word, someone somewhere is saying, now the rest is up to you. Ho ho! Thanks, pal.


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