The Walkman Chronicle
My father disappeared into the basement in search of the wine. Lois and I stood in the vestibule staring at each other. Silence.
“Oh, darling, come here. I got some schmutz on your face,” Lois said. She ran her thumb down my cheek.
I pulled back. Effrontery, I thought. Insolent. Boldness. The SAT prep words come in handy when I wanted to call a thing what it was. “Effrontery,” I mumbled, and lowered Belle and Sebastian’s “Expectations” out of my ears.
“Look at you,” Lois said. “You’re such a beautiful young woman.” She took a step back, holding my shoulders, sizing.
“Appraising,” I hissed. I was on a jag back then—still a couple of days out from taking the test. Every word in its right place. Firmly affixed.
“Ah, you’re beautiful,” Lois said. “You are a darling. Zaftig and swarthy,” she said clasping her hands to her chest. “Your father was absolutely right—every single word about you.”
I don’t know what my father saw in this woman, but whatever it was, it was enough to bring her over for dinner. The big reveal-o-rama—ugh.
I was crashing. I needed to switch tempo, switch songs—the No Doz was seeping out through my pores into the ether. I needed upbeat, so I popped in the classic punk mix cassette and stepped back. “It’s nice to meet you, but I’ve got homework to finish before dinner.”
“Wait, doll, let’s talk a bit,” she said. She grasped my arm as I turned to head upstairs and led me to the living room just as Poly Styrene was saying—some people think little girls should be seen and not heard…
“Relent.” I practiced, sotto voce, “abandon a harsh intention…”
“Your father says you’re very talented, very musical,” she said.
Beyond the Florida room sliders I spotted little Elpidio at the edge of his roof. He was dressed in his Halloween costume again. The red nylon cape fluttering in the breeze, reflecting streaks of gold in the western sky.
Lois’s face floated into my field of view. She moved me away from the sliders and said, “let me see you properly in this light.” She removed my headphones by the wire arc.
“Don’t grab them by—”
“You know in my day I went to plenty of concerts,” she said, conducting the downbeats with the upturned headphones. “Air Supply, Styx, Celine,” she moved the hair out of my eyes.
So touchy-feely, I thought—not exactly a test word, but I had to see what was going on with little Elpidio. I turned to look, and the only thing framed in the slider was the pool, our fence line, the sloping angles of the terracotta tiles on his roof, and a wisp of cirrus pasted on the bruising sky.
“Celine?” I muttered at the tail end of my spiraling energy. “Who’s Celine?” She blotted out the backyard scene again. She had overpainted the bow on her upper lip. She’d created a straight-line gash across the edge of her philtrum. She bulldozed her upper lip in coral.
I stepped aside looked over little Elpidio’s hedges. Nothing.
“Oh my God. Celine. Dion, honey!” She blocked out the view again. “Surely you’ve heard of Celine Dion, darling.” There was a wisp of a hair at the center of Lois’s beauty mark just beyond the reach of her lipstick.
“Ok. What are you listening to?” She placed the headphones upside-down on her ears, so the metal arc framed the bottom of her face. I had a whirlpool vision of a dunk-tank clown—but her framed face appeared to be the actual target. I so wanted to bash it back just then.
“Agh! Maria, what is this?” She pulled the headphones off her ears—one of the foam pads was stuck in a tangle of curls. “Oy, Maria, what is this noise?” She moved away struggling with the headphone.
Little Elpidio appeared beyond the rise of his roof and walked down the south slope and jumped.
“Maria, help me get this off—”
“Wha?” I turned to find her fumbling double fisted with one of the headphone foam pads in her hair. The headphones dangled and twisted in the dead air below her forearm. “Huh? X-Ray Spex,” I said.
“What is she screaming, hun?”
“Oh bondage up yours. Oh bondage no more,” I said.
She pulled the foam pad out of that dark tousle. I looked into the gloaming just in time to see little Elpidio take another header off the edge.
“All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.”
— Elizabeth Alexander / “Praise Song for the Day”