The two previous posts provide the opening of my book. This one is part 3 and together they make up about 18 pages. Like the others, it’s still fairly rough. Comments are always welcome…
Mind stretched back as ears open to sounds from the past recognized but gone, supernovas through telescopes. Hear the voice, see the man, mouth wide and teeth bared. Hear the voice, feel the fear, rage felt and understanding absent. Daddy’s voice only remembered in its edges, its basic qualities. Daddy’s voice rough on Franklin, rougher in the BMW, rougher as his words tumble into the open air, the wind, the night. But the voice from over a decade ago tumbled into reserves Margot can’t quite tap.
Reedy, she thinks. His voice was reedy. Reedy when he drove them up Blue Jay Way and spoke of The Beatles, the Bird Streets off Sunset, The Byrds the band, and the rock that jammed them all together in a jar of acid and guitars.
Whiny, she thinks. His voice was whiny. Whiny when he loosened his speech into a lazy slur of complaints and casual diatribes. Against Margot, against mother, against “assholes who just don’t get it.”
Beyond the difference between reedy and whiny, Margot’s reminiscence doesn’t hold many clues and she can’t access any tapes. Margot could have saved a phone message daddy left but there wasn’t a time when she could assume it would be his last.
“He’s not answering.” Daddy at the apartment buzzer for 1942 Whitley.
“Does he know you’re coming?” Margot says.
“This isn’t the kind of thing you drop on by for,” daddy says. Sharp, annoyed. Margot wishes he softened his bearing, his words for her, just for her, just tonight. But she’s 18. She told him she was 18. An adult along for the ride. How can she watch daddy die if she can’t take the lightest rebuke? “He’s probably taking a leak.”
Voices of the dead heard by friends, by family. Grandparents calling on birthdays or a college lover lost in some grand tragic accident. Remember the dead, remember their lips, their eyes, their breasts. Their voices. Their spirit is all that you cannot hold, carry, comprehend so take hold of the physical and let the spirit emerge through skin and blood, bone and tone.
But even Syracuse…Margot can’t even place a true voice on Syracuse. Syracuse her sister. Syracuse gone. Isn’t it silly how she can think of Midnight Cowboy and seconds later hear Dustin Hoffman whisper in her ear? Isn’t it silly how she can see a woman in pearls and find Audrey Hepburn speaking at her side? Isn’t it silly how she doesn’t need a hi-fi, an iPod, or a car stereo to hear Kate Bush bust a cloud or Florence Welch kiss with a fist? She can bring people never met to her side and let them sing speak seduce her to sleep while her own father, her own sister call out from across an ocean.
Tones, Margot knows the tones her sister took in moods fair and foul. Movements, Margot knows the movements her sister made in days filled and empty. The emphasis. Margot thinks of an emphasis Syracuse gave to certain syllables in the slightest way. The little pause turning Bonnie to Bon-nie. Bonnie their cat. Bonnie also gone. “Bon-nie, come to bed!” Or the way she popped out the m on “mother.” “Mother, we’ve got to go to the market.” She didn’t pop the m on other words. So the details, the nuances…those Margot feels, remembers. But the voice? Syracuse’s voice? No. It must have changed in their five years apart. She was four when Margot was born, seventeen when she left, with the in between lost in a 13-year spell of development upward and inward and outward. Syracuse grew everywhere, growing taller right alongside Margot, making it impossible to catch up. Margot was left holding her sister’s old jeans to wear three days in a row so laundry was done only once a week. Those jeans, any of the pairs she slid on during elementary school, brought paranoia to Margot as she walked down the locker-lined hallways. She felt judgment land on denim, ridicule turned on short inseams or baggy knees or frayed hems or small tears. When Syracuse left, Margot figured the singular advantage would involve new jeans, her own pair that she could pick with excitement. But mother wouldn’t entertain any such thoughts, telling Margot the old jeans would simply have to become capris if she grew too tall. Margot still suspects her mother let her drink so much Diet Pepsi to stunt her growth. She topped out at 5’3, a few inches shorter than Syracuse, and the jeans, faded and dingy, touched the ground all throughout high school.
Margot has those conversations with Syracuse, almost as many now as when they lived together. She asks her sister questions or goes into detail about a movie she enjoyed, a guy she likes, a fear, concern, a pain. Syracuse breathes in through her nose while Margot speaks and breathes out when she finishes, the delicate shape of her head dipping a chin down as shadows cross under her eyes. And Syracuse says what Margot expects her to say even if sentiments run counter to what Margot wants her to say. Margot can make her sister’s mouth move, make her sister’s thoughts run, make her sister’s words emerge in a string of thoughts. Words to understand, words to provide comfort… They’re Margot’s words, really, spoken through memories transported to the present in a bit of homefront science fiction. But she can’t create Syracuse’s voice, not the voice of a 17-year-old girl and not the voice of the 22-year old woman she’s become. Margot imagines the Syracuse of the real world has changed in slight ways for the better, letting love close in on her soul as she laughs with abandon. With abandon. It sounds right, sounds like a match for someone happy. Margot doesn’t know what it means. Abandoning…yourself, your hangups? To live loose and free and laugh with abandon…But Margot doesn’t laugh with abandon and Syracuse was always colder. While Margot sleeps in rooms alone she accepts Syracuse twisting her body through some snowy street, blue-faced and solitary. Sometimes, Margot breaks the limits of time and distance to join her sister and ask why she went to find the snow.
Was it the snowy city, with windows that didn’t need canned frosting to boast holiday sales and streams of heavy trench coats shuffling through sidewalks every morning and afternoon? Was it the snowy country, with a single farmhouse rising from fields of white reached by trudging over powdered plains and slushy rural lanes lined by bare skinny trees pining for their leaves? Was it the snowy town, with the kind of quaint main street Margot had never seen and plows coming through at dawn and cars slowly slowly slowly holding their tires to the icy road?
Did it snow anywhere in June, anywhere at all? If Syracuse left to find the snow, would Margot ever have the chance to find her?
Daddy smokes another cigarette. “I’ll give it five and try again,” he said a minute earlier. The smoke hits Margot’s nose and she turns away. Daddy wasn’t supposed to smoke, wasn’t allowed to smoke when Margot was over. “Make sure he doesn’t smoke,” mother told Margot when daddy’s car would pull up at the driveway. Okay. Margot once gave daddy a weak “Mother says you can’t smoke when I’m home” and he nodded. But Margot saw ash in the toilets most mornings. She smelled the Camels in her hair, in her clothes, in her sheets. The smell, the smoke, the poisons drifted through air and apartment, landing on Margot and drawing her eyes to tears when she tried to sleep with the June bugs on hot Saturday nights.
“Why–” Margot says. “Why don’t you call?”
“No phone. You don’t have one?”
“Not on me.”
Daddy holds button again and Margot hears rustling on the other end. Voice muffled before daddy says “Yeah” and a buzzer cuts through the air. Margot yanks the door open and daddy slides inside. Stale air inside the lobby, stale and smoky as daddy’s car, his sweatshirts, his bathroom at the old apartment. Old? Current? Margot doesn’t know where he lives anymore. He may live in that stale smoky car. She can’t tell if the apartment’s rancid or if daddy’s permeated her senses for the night. The fears the latter but the peeling paint and burn-marked carpet gives hope to the former.
“How are you gonna- – how are you going to do it?” she asks. Keep smoking, she thinks. It’ll happen soon enough. Margot sees the jaundiced skin once again, this time under the lobby’s florescence as they wait for the elevator. Maybe a sentence was already handed out, three months to live, six months, a year. Chemotherapy, a change in lifestyle…how easy is it to make yellow skin turn back to peach?