When she grew into an old person, Peanut turned this over on her deathbed, in her mind, after having lived the life of a bright girl, but also particularly a bright girl with simpleton parents, if you can imagine that. She pictured her thinking, her turning, like the golf ball-size globule of mucus she’d recently produced, which was incandescent, white, and motable. It seemed alive, it was not alive, particles of it could be alive, and it meant death. One time she’d been sitting at a sidewalk café and saw a mother and child, holding hands, walking by. The mother had protruding from her forehead an egg-shaped lump. The child, too, had one bulging from his forehead, a slight variation on egg, his mottled like cauliflower. There are many possible explanations. Some things are given, and you don’t know how.
WizenedI: OTHER PEOPLE
I begin with what I see plainly, before and around me. There is much to curtail. To one side, my neighbors are a family, extremely nuclear in a contemporary way. There’s a mother, a father, a girl, and a boy, both children from previous marriages, the girl blonde, the boy brunet, both juniors at the local private high school, both athletes (soccer). The kids, Jeff and Amie, own (that is, were given for Christmas) a basset hound named (by Jeff) Spliff, a word his parents pretend they don’t understand.
A good family: Mrs. Craven runs an antique store, and Mr. Craven is a corporate-theft deterrent specialist. Amie plays clarinet, and Jeff’s hair is longer than Amie’s. Spliff runs in small circles and bays like a donkey, true to his breed. When Mr. Craven goes to another town to deter theft, Mrs. Craven goes along. She says they are taking the opportunity for a
romantic getaway. She says instead of missing each other, they are making applesauce and lemonade, so to speak.The kids say, “Yeah, mom, you just don’t want him screwing around.” Mom says, “That’s me, I smother,” and points at her cheek for a kiss.
I see it all through my sharp eyes, hear it all with my keen ears, and I’m mired by experience, dense with inaccessible wisdom. Mr. and Mrs. Craven pull out of the driveway, and soon a dozen private high school kids, along with a dozen of their friends who were kicked out in seventh grade, and a dozen of
friends from public school, and a dozen of
friends who dropped out last year . . . dozens and dozens of kids arrive. I am the one who waits until the two-foot water pipe is pulled from under the bed and passed around, and then I am the one who calls the police. I am the bitch from hell and what I need is a good fuck. I have nothing better to do, no business of my own to mind, and I don’t shave.You can smell my bitterness, it’s so old. When Mr. Craven does not have a business trip, I crouch in my car and wait for Amie and Jeff to sneak out their windows and hop into a van that waits up the block with its lights off.Then I follow the van to a neighboring development, and when the block is lined with cars and the house is filled with kids, I call the police on my cell phone, which I bought for this purpose and this purpose exclusively, since, regardless of the fact that I am a
maid, and not an
maid, this is the business I mind.
I wait until the police have come, dispersed the children, and vacated the premises.Then I wait for the kids to gather at the golf course because it is not raining, and once they have set up their keg in a thicket, I call the police again.They must think I’m having a good giggle, but I’m serious, in a dead sort
of way, because I have come to this, and of all things, in this I believe. I know what happened to me. I became crotchety. En route to wisdom, I wizened. I terrorize with my morality. But I do take pleasure as well.
My neighbors to the other side are a homosexual couple about my age. They are graphic designers and work in a furnished garden shed in their backyard. In the morning, at eight o’clock, they walk out their front door with their briefcases, kiss like Europeans, and then one turns left and one turns right. Around the house they go, meet up at their shed, and shake hands. It’s such a good, old joke to them that they don’t have to laugh aloud for me to know how happy they are, how deep and ironic their ritual.When I go through my junk mail, I separate the good stuff, like “Herbal medicines enclosed” and “Check here for your free magazine.” I peel away my address and leave the fat envelopes in their mailbox. When their Dalmatian bitch Goody digs a hole in the Cravens’ yard, I fill it when no one is looking. I don’t want a spat raging across my yard. I don’t want the Cravens to have anything on the homosexuals.
Also, I experience compassion in my distanced way. Across the street lives a woman who is older than me, although no one knows it because I have adopted the role I have adopted. I wear appropriate thick stockings and waistless housecoats. Vivian’s husband left her a year ago, and so eager was he to travel around the world without her that he allowed her the house and makes the payments, and took with him only his credit cards, their daughter, their pet cockatoo, and, it is evident from my observations, his wife’s will to survive. The bird died in the baggage compartment on a plane to Israel, but the
girl, who is eight and has yet to speak a word, flies in from places like Crete and Bangladesh for monthly visits, collecting exotic airline stickers on her suitcase. Various breeds of men hang around the house with Vivian, sometimes more than one at a time. They sit on her front porch in their boxer shorts. They play catch with the little girl in the dusk.
One at a time, each man’s immoral afflictions are revealed to me. One spent an afternoon in the yard aiming a gun (not registered) at Goody, Spliff, and the front door of the homosexuals’ house. One broke a bedroom window when he was trying to open it, then told Vivian it had always been that way. One slapped the little girl when she threw a ball and it hit his crotch. One refused to use a condom. One pocketed the change from Vivian’s bedside table. It’s the sneaks I can’t stand. There are too many people in the world for me to allow for sneaks. If there weren’t so many people, the sneaks wouldn’t matter. They wouldn’t get tangled up. The sneaks could sneak all by themselves. One of Vivian’s men, though, a man with a willowy body and big, marble eyes, shot up heroin on my side of Vivian’s hedges, under a street lamp, at seven thirty in the evening. I left him alone. I admired his gumption. The rest: I find out where they work and let their bosses know. I find out where they live and tell their wives. This, if not all things, is possible if you do your research and commit the time.
This is my sphere of influence. I have drawn a circle around the homes, making a fine subset for my purposes. In its center, I have drawn a circle around myself. I cover myself with clothes. Somewhere, I am inside the circles, inside my clothes,
seeing with none but the relevant eye, the eye that sees within my worldview. Irrelevant eyes are elsewhere, living in forms of sight I’ve rejected. Outside are the larger circles of the housing development, the earth, the orbits of other planets, and who-knows-what. If God appeared, He would be a circle.
When Spliff sneaks across my yard to have sex with Goody, I throw stones at him until he goes home, baying in circles. When Vivian’s mute daughter falls from her bicycle, I set her on the porch, ring the bell, and run away, the bike’s wheels still spinning. When Jeff and Amie ding the car, I spray paint a circle around it, so it can’t be missed. When the homosexuals begin to romance with the lights on, I close my shades so that they may have privacy, although, when I’ve had my nightcap already, I do allow myself to peek. Sometimes I spend the day making things for my house. I cut the bodice off an old sun-dress and sew curtains for the kitchen. I scrub the living room floor with sandpaper and paint it blue.
I am twenty-seven and I have been crotchety for a good three years. I moved here when I felt it coming on, a fear that began with other people’s genitals, which are taking over the world. The fear filled me; a city of fear grew inside me, unarticulated, a mess of fear with outdated maps. I was, in fact, living in a city when I articulated the fear for the first time. It was all the people, trying to organize themselves into buildings but spilling into the streets, stepping all over one another, erecting and imploding, and worst of all, when they felt their humanity at its height, humanity in the form of lust or sentiment, extracting their sex organs and producing more of themselves.
When it comes to genitals and humanity, I give the homosexuals a break, because I think they have promise. But I do
not give my parents a break, and I do not give myself a break, either. My parents have moved from this, my childhood home, to an identical house in another development, another cul-de-sac, another state. I think they had nothing to do without a mortgage. Three years I’ve come to this and remained. My parents send me money because I hate them so much. I tried—I have—to believe that it’s time for something new to happen to me, some new idea. But I have already heard all the ideas. They’re towered in the city of my fear. And I swear, I never get over it, the prospect of cleaner space, wider spheres, consequent mass widenings of individual existences. It gets me gaga, floats my boats, recharges my engines when I imagine it, so I work on my scheme for reduction, which comes down, plainly, to people. It’s not the genitals as
that I mind, so much as the minds behind them, and what is done. A gun is not really a gun unless it’s shot, you know.
Jonathan Swift thought of this, more or less, when he proposed feeding the destitute with sick and starving children. People thought he was serious, but then smarter people caught up with his irony. Smarter people still, like me, know exactly what was going on. Swift knew he was right, and he knew the futility created by the condition of the biologic human heart: the heart says, “You can’t kill people,” and the mind says, “It sure would be good for those alive.” I mean, it was a
So I work on my scheme, which involves the identification of pressure points on fault lines, the poisoning of potato chips, the introduction of ravenous, rabid animals to a metropolis or two, a grand network of anonymous assassins. I’m working it all out, rubbing my hands together with private glee, putting my self-doubt and grandiosity alternately into perspective, trying
to construct a way to allow the remaining population a pure mourning, one that cannot blame, one that results, finally, in cleansing.This one, this idea, after many small ones, fills my mind. I cannot conceive of a better one, and I’m currently convinced it simply can’t be done. The weaseling I commit each day with the Cravens, with Vivian’s men, the way I resort to the
of all things to clean my neighborhood—none would be necessary if I could finish the scheme. Not an easy job, but it keeps me going, and for now it keeps my great shakes in place.
But truly, I confess I am not stupid enough to believe I can do a thing to help people on such a scale, especially as I am no good at networking and hold no fascist claim to fame. So I keep the scheme to the sphere of my mind, because I haven’t got it done, and because despite my best intentions, I am a good person, and can therefore be no more than an itch on a person’s butt, a salve on a pimple, a bane to my own existence. I’m done examining why. It’s so old hat, and it smells up a room.II: ONE PERSON
Which is not to say that I am always by myself, and which is not to say I never question the time I spend. For instance, merely months ago, someone knocked on my door. It’s true, I ran upstairs, afraid that something had fallen from something, but I did, eventually, discover the cause of the banging and interaction ensued.
It was a fellow, an up-front one as it turned out (I admire up-front), seventeen as it turned out. I invited him in, and
he said, “Look, I’m not gonna dick around. Jeff next door, you know that kid, basically dared me to ask you out because he thinks I’ll fuck anything.” I considered. I straightened my stockings, which I wear even in the summer as part of my role, and asked him if he wanted tea. He said,“I drink coffee.” I said, “Okay. I have some here somewhere.”