My carry-on contained an 800-page biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer and a worn copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy, three months worth of high quality vitamins, two pair of underwear, and a t-shirt with a frayed neckline and a flowery surfer design across the front. The guards at the airport detained me and asked me questions for which I had no answers. In the end, I think they satisfied themselves that I was merely eccentric.
On the plane, I’d met a woman about my age, which is indeterminate. She was waiting for me on the sidewalk when I was released. I was pleased because I was always looking for someone to take care of me. She was pleased because she was always looking for someone to take care of, as her Polish grandmother had done for a succession of small, rotund men who adored opera and had weak hearts.
This jet-lagged woman’s eyes were unnaturally blue. She took my suitcase and began rolling it toward the parking lot, in which chickens did a dance to keep away weasels. As she opened the door of her Peugeot, I knew her as an unrecognized saint. She stopped in her tracks, trying to figure out what to do about the annoying stigmata that had appeared on her hands and feet. Like Joni Mitchell, she smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, and decided to use them as gauze to wipe the blood away.
In her car she smoked. The smoke smelled like a slaughterhouse. I had worked in a kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa, USA, and the smell brought back fond memories. That fondness attached to her and grew into something I thought was love. In reality, it was only a surfeit of nostalgia but, by the time I had figured that out, we had already married.
A few months after our nuptials, we obtained a free apartment in Paris, courtesy of an English war profiteer. In the eighteenth century, the apartment building had been a carriage stop. Horses entered under the arch and stomped their feet on the cobblestones. Our apartment looked out on a rail yard. Trains entered and left all day and night, causing the earth to rumble, shaking the building.
My wife was unable to distinguish between external stimuli and internal stimuli, a symptom of the mental illness I had only discovered after we were wed, so she was unable to sleep or concentrate. She begged me to take her away from that wretched place, but the apartment was free, and we had it for an unlimited time. Actually, the owner didn’t even know we were there. He was renovating a houseboat in Germany (supervising a troop of former barmaids who had started a construction corporation) and was not expected back any time soon.
So I insisted: This is where we are, and this is where we’ll be, as if I was spouting Buddhism.
My wife built a rough crucifix in the middle of the living room and, with the assistance of some local meth heads, tied herself to it.
This is so derivative, I said. There is nothing more derivative than parodies or tributes to Christianity. I am taking you back to the asylum.
Fine, she said. Anywhere is better than being here with you.
Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over a thousand of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for numerous prizes. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. To see more of his work, google Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois. He lives in Denver.
Lead image: “Gate 37” (via Flickr user Tom Magliery)