Ian didn't take me seriously until I tugged at my curls and a handful dropped from my head like dead leaves. That got his attention. I was glad he stopped talking then because his words had turned into syrup, arching past me in golden spirals. I watched the spirals drift past me into the trumpet vines surrounding Ian's porch, where they hung for a moment and then drooled long honeyed strands to the mossy earth below. I rubbed the back of my head where the throbbing was, wondering where Ian had learned to speak in syrup spirals. Then something odd happened to fill the silence between us.
Ian lived on his porch through the summer; I knew that. He had a phobia about stinging insects, he said, and bumblebees nested inside the ragged old armchair he sat in. He had told me he wanted to learn how to live in their company, sharing the porch. Now the bumblebees exited single file from a small hole in the side of the arm and formed a circle in the air above us, extraordinary.
"Do you see that," I said, pointing. "How do they do that?"
Ian looked up where I was pointing and back to me. "Pilar, your hair is falling out." He was making ordinary words again, syrup-free. How did he do that?
I pulled out another swatch and handed it to him. "I know. I had such beautiful hair when I was younger, fluffy black curls, thick. Now it's dead, exhausted."
"You have to say no. It's killing you. You have to tell them both to find someone else, you can't do it anymore."
It had taken me three months to arrive on Ian's porch. My brother Nick and his wife Cheryl split up then and talked to me every day, for hours, trashing each other. I loved them both, and my four nieces and nephews, and I listened and listened and listened until my hair started falling out. I wanted Ian to offer a solution and this is what he came up with? The bumblebees broke ranks and flew off in all directions into the trumpet vines that hid the porch from the street. I was pleased no one could see me.
"I can't say no to my brother. He's my brother."
"Have you ever said no to anyone in your life, Pilar? Ever?"
"Not really. It's rude."
"Better rude than dead."
I looked at Ian's salt-and-pepper beard, which had turned into worms. They were pretty worms, like spaghettini, and at the end of each one there was a tiny face with a smile on it. No eyes or nose, just little smiles, all smiling at me. Ian looked worried. I decided not to tell him he had worms for a beard. He would think I was going crazy, and besides, it would be rude. "You have alligator eyes," I said. This was true. Now we sat together in a blue pond, with Ian's heavy-lidded eyes watching me from just above the surface. I was underwater myself, though; he couldn't see me.
"What does Raoul say about you making yourself sick listening to all that marital shit?"
"He's gone. To Seattle, I think. With my money."
Raoul was my gorgeous black lover. Was. He was 24, I was 51. I met him in my laundromat. I was wearing black spandex which made me feel like Mrs. Peel and Raoul told me I looked like a lion-tamer and did I have a lion. We were lovers for three weeks before he was arrested for something ridiculous because he was black in Vancouver and I gave him all my savings, three thousand dollars, for bail, and he disappeared to Seattle. He made me feel so young. I told Ian all this.
"Expensive," he said. "Worth it?"
"Oh, yes." I was having a slight difficulty speaking myself. The summer air had become thick and chewable. I had to spit words into bubbles, unsure if they could be heard.
"So you are alone again."
I don't do well alone, Ian knows this. Alone alone alone alone. Abalone. I wanted him to do something. Had I spit this aloud?
"What do you want me to do, Pilar?"
"I want you to solve it. Talk sense to Nick and Cheryl. Get them to stop saying such awful things about each other. Get them back together."
Ian scratched the top of his bald head, which emitted a beam of white light going straight up, like the shooting star of pain that streaked through my head just then.
"Close your eyes, please. Just relax," Ian said softly, covering me with warm butter. "I want you to rest a moment and just listen inside, and tell me, what is it that you truly want for yourself right now?"
The question surprised me. My head was filled with worry over Nick and Cheryl and the kids, a wastebasket of broken glass edged with bloodstains, awful. Something foetal rose up in all that and turned into words. "I'm so tired," I said. "I want to curl up in a ball and be taken care of completely. I don't want to move. I just want to be fed, bathed, held like a baby and never have to do anything anymore. I don't want this anymore."
I began to weep, softly. I think it was the truth that did that.
Ian got up out of the armchair and kissed the top of my head, on one of the bare spots. "I'm going to make us tea," he said. "Rest a moment and then we'll figure out what to do."
He went into the old house and I was left to the porch and the bumblebees doing cartwheels in the trumpet vines. The pain in my head did a cartwheel and I inhaled and grabbed the arms of the chair. My mind went completely silent and I could only look at the hands gripping like talons, no longer my hands as I couldn't feel them, just see them. Everything slowed down and I had to wait in the silence until finally a little voice inside said, "Unclench. Unclench the hands and get up and go inside and tell him something's wrong." The hands paid no attention.
And no wonder. I could no longer tell where the edges of my body were. I had somehow lost my definition and blended into the chair, the porch, the trumpet vines. It was a glorious feeling, really, being everything around me and losing me in the process, as if I was the summer day itself, sunshine and light and space and a soft, humming peacefulness. The little voice returned: "There is a problem. We have to focus. Call for help."
Another voice, then. "This is ridiculous. You have no time for this sort of thing. Your brother needs you, your sister-in-law needs you, how dare you make such a fuss over listening to heartache. You're not entitled to a meltdown, you silly thing."
The little voice whispered through my cartwheels around the trumpet vines: "Okay, have a meltdown for a couple of days until you're rested, and then phone your brother. Get up now, though, and call Ian." That seemed so reasonable I could only weep with gratitude when my body refused to move and Ian came back out with two cups of tea.
"Raa raa raa raa raaaa," he said, and I had to laugh at that. He sounded like a lion on Prozac.
I looked at him but saw him from a place high up in the trumpet vines, with me sitting there like a lump in the chair on the porch. "There's something wrong. I need help," I said to him. But what came out was, "Raa raa raa raa raaa," and that seemed too funny for words. I sounded like a lion on Prozac. Like a lion. Like.
Ian dropped the cups of tea but I couldn't see what happened to them. Tiny dots of different colors moved in the air like lightning bugs but refused to sort themselves into cups and spilled tea and porch and floor; it was just the energy of those things and part of me, too, as the body I was watching from high above leaned into the swirl and joined the floor and then everything was white and silent.
Ian pushes my wheelchair to the dinner table where someone named Cathy makes supper for us here. Cathy bathes us and feeds us and Nick never calls and Ian says I've been here for a year now. I am taken care of completely, he says, and when I ask him if he'd like to stay and have supper with us, all that comes out is, "Raa raa raa raa raaa," so he kisses me on the top of the head where my hair has all grown back and leaves the group home with bumblebees trailing behind him.
All rights reserved.
I'm wondering if it's plausible to suggest that someone might rather fall apart completely than have to say No to people she loves?