Rosellen Brown



                                                 I'm listening, I said.


I'm listening, I said.
She never came by so early but this time she took the kids to school and turned around,
rushed over while the mist was still thick over the brook, just lifting
its long gray wing. Air still harsh on the skin with morning.
She took the road like she was being chased, pebbles flying, dust when she stopped, a geyser.
"Cora," she said, and she flung down in a chair (heavily, though she was not heavy),"
her skinny self, her bag that said HOT STUFF in pink yarn roses,
her curls disheveled, herself a rose, over-ripe,
and asked for a shot of coffee. Head in her hands,
always dramatic. Doomed. "A shot!" I laughed. "How strong do you think I make it!"
"This isn't funny."
"I never said it was." But I was sorry.
I bit my lip and poured and sat. "Tara." Soft as I could. She smiled
like someone who could see a thousand miles into the distance
over Crane Mountain, halfway to Boston, but went there, searching, alone,
no one invited.

Such push-pull, talk-don't talk, and I sat with my hands
in my lap, obedient, while the coffee heated,
waiting to hear what she came for and
didn't we know it would come.

And when it came I couldn't think anything but Damn,
nobody gets through, then, without a blot or a smear—Reverend Slate
would sigh: weakness, common as mildew,
dark spots spreading everywhere, a contagion.

Damn: She couldn't not. He didn't want to not. Dink, his name was. Dink.
I should have guessed. So: She had Curly. He had someone named Jan. Children
galore, between the two of them. And Curly faithful,
God knows—Curly who's been stunned for years
that this woman seems to want him. (He thickens,
she thins. Why didn't I see it coming.)
She met him—Dink—at the office of the County Clerk. Such innocents.
Citizens, shoulder to shoulder.
Her neck was knotty when she cried.
They'd never spent the night, all of it stolen,
rushed, terrible, thrillingly wild,
Oh Cora, you can't imagine—and she was right, I couldn't. (Not
that I didn't try.) The pure pain of it. Savage, the tearing
when they left each other, as if they were parting for good,
for exile across the ocean. Her lovely face was ravaged
as ever I'd see it, raw and fragile,
frayed at the eye sockets, all worn. I didn't want details,
did, didn't. The way she wanted to tell me,
not tell me, tell me, a light
flashing on/off, on/off on the two of us
caught in it full, showing too much that we didn't
want seen. "He touches me," and her face was young as her youngest daughter's
in spite of the eyes,
"and I'd die, I'd give my life away, I swear, for a single finger
there." Imagining Fry, the idea of dying for any part of him,
let alone a finger.

The questions I swear I asked to make her feel better, not worse.
Trying to calm her, edge her over: Think of your girls, your boy, the dangers, real ones,
trading them in like this for a passing passion. "Oh,
I should have expected, you can't bear the thought of anyone
happy in bed!" I tried to soothe
the craziness out, like smoothing wrinkles from a sheet,
regular, slow. "Just think," I said. "It's you I care about, you
in a year, alone. Five years. Well and good, bed,
the ecstasy part. Will he leave his wife for you?"
Think? "This isn't about shared bank accounts," she scolded me,
her face gone red, "shared names or shared beds," it was the way
they lit up the sky like a burning oil well. The howling,
animals finding each other after so long. Her curls collapsed, live petals suddenly drying, going
       brown.
Her breasts, I saw, at the top of her shirt
were on their way to long and stringy: this was the moment
before her life looked all too much like mine. No wonder
she had to tell me. She wept for my life that must seem to be coming at her, its mildew, its
      spreading blankness.
"Do you need my permission?" I asked her that.
(This is, I swear, where All My Children comes from, As the World
Turns, this is where it goes.) "What
are friends for?" she dared me back,
and handed me coffee cold in the mug. Hard,
harder than I'd ever seen her, thin-lipped, she talked to the door.
"Curly I love, Curly is good. But Dink—
he makes me real, he makes me a woman. No,
Cora, remember? Well, maybe you don't. That's what it is: A never-been-touched.
A girl."

She roared away, not comforted, I guess, but not dissuaded either,
to spend the morning mooning over the clothes in her dryer, the luncheon meat. Howling?
I tried to imagine
the animal that would make me bark
and startle. That could make me gamble my life
for a single moment of burning. Exile? Never-been-touched?
Never-been-touched? Then, honey,
I'm the girl.

                                                                                   –from Cora Fry's Pillow Book


Rosellen Brown, Cora Fry's Pillow Book, Farrar, Staus & Giroux, 1994.