Saturday, November 22, 2008

Return to Sender

Ten words: pipe organ, ravages of time, lottery tickets, angelic music,
five x five, boxes of books, flattery will get you nowhere, yodelling, pig
tails, knitting needles

Mini challenge: canary yellow, grizzly bear, out of the frying pan into the fire,
simpleton, Ministry of Crazy Walks

Return to Sender

Angelica lived in a five by five cardboard box. On a whim, she had painted her new abode a bright canary yellow to distinguish it from the other makeshift apartments burgeoning on the Upper East Side. It hadn’t always been this way. Just 2 weeks ago, she had inhabited a smart condo in Newark overlooking the Hudson. Three days a week she commuted to her basement office on Houston Street where she dedicated herself to her students and to her craft. The remainder of her time was spent in delirious walks along river pathways, clandestine matinees at the Film Forum and delicious trysts with Sarah Vowell and Mary Oliver. There was a hypnotic rhythm to her life.

It had all happened in the blink of an eye.  On Friday she was chair of the English dept at E. Dickenson U.  The following Monday, she was arranging for her treasured boxes of books to be put into storage.

While in the giddy thrall of a Madmen episode, Angelica had absently answered the phone. “Angelica, is that you?”  An agitated voice rattled the evening’s diversion .  “Yes mom. It’s me.” Angelica was determined to maintain an even timbre. “ Oh thank goodness!!!  Where in tarnation have you
been? “    Before Angelica could respond, Dolores was tauntingly yodeling her daughter’s name.  Aaaaaaaa. Ngelica  Aaaaaangelica.  She could hear the knitting needles manically clicking their litany in the background.   Unnoticed, a shadow crept into the room. Angelica felt queasy. She watched as she moved away from herself. Her throat tightened, her hands felt icy and she was losing track of things she knew.  There was a fleeting sense of self reproach for having neglected to screen the call. Even in her estranged state, Angelica was aware that things were swiftly veering off course. With all the aplomb she could muster, she said  “Mom, how are you?”  It was a heroic attempt at salvaging something that had long ago been broken. “Flattery will get you nowhere.  I am knitting you a sweater but I don’t know your size.”The censure came like a bellclap. She felt the sting of her mother’s backhand and knew she was lost.

The last time Angela had come undone, she had fled into the wilderness.  Here she stripped herself of everything familiar and lived as a simpleton. Naked.  Literally.  Loping through the veldt.  Foraging for sustenance.  An exile from the ravages of time and the indifference of fate.  Her burnished hair grown long and splintered. She plaited the feral mass into regressive pigtails, not so much as an effort at grooming but to make herself more aerodynamic in her environment.  One day, she hiked into town for provisions. Prodded by a Korean merchant who harbored best wishes for her fortune to improve, she bought 5 lottery tickets.  #897501257 paid off handily and helped her to pave the way back to a more relaxed existence.   With the cushion of the prize money, she began to write. She listened to the voices of her ancestors and let the angelic music of the ages flow through her. She felt as if she were a lute being strummed.   Her friend Andrea submitted the poems from this period of awakening to the New Yorker.  Three of them were published immediately. Angelica continued to write because it made her happy. At first she chronicled her journey to madness and back. It was comforting to retrace her steps and to note that she remembered the way home. Following breadcrumbs before they were devoured. A grimm mastery.

 In the still of early morning while the city slept, Angelica sat trancelike at her kitchen table. She scrawled  fragments of dreams and splinters of vision feverishly in long hand onto yellow college ruled pads. She continued to listen to the voices of her ancestors. In a year’s time, Angelica was granted the coveted Plath award for her book Ministry of Crazy Walks which ultimately catapulted her into her academic career.

Now, she found herself once again out of the frying pan and into the fire.   She chortled at the irony. This was a veritable upgrade. At least she didn’t have to defend her food and her existence against the elemental needs hunger of lumbering grizzly bears and wily raccoons.  And any time her heart desired, she could wrap herself in the warmth of the sacred music of Bach on the pipe organ at St Francis Parish. Angelica started collecting cards of saints.  She wasn’t a religious person, but she had always had a fascination with mysticism.  She peered at the serene visage of St Theresa of Avila.  And read the words,

Love once said to me, "I know a

would you like to hear it?"


And laughter came from every brick
in the street

and from every pore

in the sky.



Melli said...

Wow! This was really good. Without ever knowing what the mother did, you know exactly how Angelica FELT about it. Her desperate desire to be AWAY from it... very nice!

Raven said...

Exquisite. I can relate to the relationship between Angelica and her mother. This is so beautifully written. I think it is the seed of a book. You have a real gift for what I think of as poet prose.

Anonymous said...

I haven't decided yet if this was a trip into madness or a trip out of it, but I am totally clear on how very well it was written. Excellent Wordzzle! Wow!

Jeff B said...

I saw a voice within all of us that yearns to be set free. Masterful use of language as well.

Dr.John said...

Very well written. You can feel the madness coming on being driven by an old force that she thought was set aside. But at the end you don't know if she is mad or has found a life that allows her to live at peace.
I enjoyed it.

Lu' said...

Very cool. I dug this story.

bettygram said...

You write so well. I have been enjoying this story,

Carletta said...

I'm speechless - wonderfully written!
I agree with Raven - a book in the making.
I wanted more...

Christopher said...

It seems to me that much of what we view in life as a singular occurrence can be looked at as an instance of reoccurring incidents and we react in whichever way we are able to at the time. This was another beautifully written post. Dark, but at the same time, inspirational.

Akelamalu said...

I want to read more! Fabulous writing. I loved the way you used Ministry of crazy walks as a book title! :)

Dianne said...

poet prose - as Raven said.

I felt the stunning madness yet wonderful hope of Angela.

Lulda Casadaga said...

Enjoyed your story...wanted to read more. One little issue..."condo overlooking Hudson"...not from Newark...try Hoboken, Jersey City, or West New York...unless, there is a very TALL Bldg you could probably get a glimpse of it!! ;)
Just an observation from me original Joisey girl. :)

gabrielle said...

Melli - You intuitively grasped the gist of the story. Thanks to you for grokking Angelica.

raven - How perceptive of you to intuit the mother-daughter relationship and the writing style. Before I engaged in the wordzlle exercise, I exclusively wrote poetry. Thanks for your encouragement.

Quilldancer - it's a trip out (but first you have to dive in).

Jeff B.- Thank you, Jeff. It is all about breaking out of outgrown constructs.

Dr. John - I'm glad that you enjoyed it. It is an old force indeed.

Lu - thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

Bettygram - thank you. I'm happy you enjoyed the story.

Carletta - I wish I had it in me to do more. Right now I'm intimately weaving my way through Angelica's story.

Christopher - So true. Variations on a theme. Hopefully, each iteration, we grow stronger and wiser.

Akelamalu - thank you. Ministry of Cray Walks are us.

Diane - thank you. I feel hope too.

Lulda - thanks for pointing out the geographic gaffe. Geography, not my forte. Next time I'll do some fact checking. So glad you enjoyed the story.