Thursday, March 13, 2014

James Dean Mops the Floor Rather Than Taking an Early Exit


He was sitting in his favorite chair reading a movie script, but thinking about switching on the game, when she came home.

"I think we should clean the house tonight, dear," she said, breathless, as she set down two bags of groceries.

There was a tone in her voice that told him this was not open to discussion.

"And I have a yoga class later, so we need to begin now."

He wanted to say "But I was just going to..." when he thought better of it. He closed his reading and set it on the table. He pulled himself out of the chair, his tousled mop of signature rebellion looking a bit flat. He had put on a little weight.

His tight, straight-legged jeans bound his movements as he stretched, his mind quelling the rising insurgency. He was getting better at what she called watching his reactions.

"The mop and bucket are in the furnace room, next to your saddle and motorcycle," she reminded him firmly, but gently. "And I am so proud of you for having given up that nasty smoking habit. I mean, really, that cancer stick hanging off your lower lip all the time was really unhealthy. You need to get more exercise and fiber now that you're taking care of yourself. And I appreciate your not driving quite so fast. Traffic is much easier now that we have the Pruis instead of your Porchie race car, or whatever you call it."

"PorSCHE," he said, with a German "UH". 

He had to admit that he did feel better now that he was getting regular sleep, keeping the hard drink to a healthy moderation, and seeing his therapist.

He plodded dutifully to the furnace room and noticed that his Norton was gathering dust. There was a puddle of oil beneath the kick starter. She would not like that.

He pulled the mop off the hook and cleared a path to the cat litter box. The last time his box of road maps had blocked access to the litter, the cat had peed on his favorite chair, the leather one, the one that looked like a bucket seat of a Corvette.

"You have to sweep first," she reminded him when she saw that he planned to mop right away.

"Got it," he mumbled.

"Would you like some music to clean by? I have a great CD of whale sounds or crashing waves in the distance," she offered, now wearing baggy sweats and fuzzy slippers.

"How about some blues?" he said.

"No, I can't clean to that whiny, sad stuff," she chirped as she began dusting the leaves of the palm plants.

She turned on the whale-call music. He pointed the broom deep into the corners under the floor cabinets in the kitchen. He pulled out scraps of kale leaves, whole-wheat pasta noodles, a piece of tamari-marinated salmon.

How did all that stuff get there? he wondered.

Then the phone rang and buddy of his wanted to hit the town, then go up a car race up north.

"Nah, I got some things I have to do," was all he said.

The sweeping went well enough, but a pressure was building in his chest as the whales sang and she hummed along, thinking that the garden really needed some work too.

It was different now that they had moved in together he had to admit. He spent more time working, for sure, but also more time at home. She wanted to talk, wanted to get to know him. It was hard, because he did not really know himself, couldn't answer her questions.

Her friends seemed to know so much more, and he was jealous when men would make her laugh or swoon with a wise and pithy observation about childhood or family histories of conditioning. She was like a foreign country to him, more foreign than what lay over the horizon on his aimless rambles on his motorcycle. Back then, when he was looking for something, he never thought he would find this.

This was the hardest thing he'd ever done, for sure. This ordinariness was bizarre.

He finished sweeping, and he had to admit that the floor looked good. He filled the bucket and began to mop the tile. Outside the ocean shimmered like hammered silver.  He thought about the valley and the heat and a time when the cigarette hanging from his lip had caught the eye of a film maker. He just went along with everything after that. It was fun, kinda phony, but fun.

Then he met her and she did not kiss up to him. In fact, she stared him down. He took a turn and followed something else. That was a mystery. It was different, confusing. The terrain she saw was inside, invisible to the dancers and trend-setters he hung with.

All he knew was that he stayed, might even stay for a long time, even if he never understood why, and that in this life, anyway, he would never be the legend who died too young, who made for the perfect end to a story that people would tell again and again, the one about leaving behind such a beautiful corpse, as they laid flowers on his young grave. 

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