upon a time, there was a musical group called The
Anne was fiddling with the salt shaker, trying to make one of its octagonal bottom edges rest against a grain of salt.
“Ok. But, Jesus, you were born after Lennon was already dead.”
“Jesus.” Chick shook his head, looked around the diner.
“I’ve heard of him, too,” Anne said and smiled. Her smile was like new silver. She was positively elfin, Chick thought.
“Ha. Ok. But, I mean, do you think this is crazy. I’m forty-four.”
“Yes, you think it’s crazy?”
“Yes. It’s crazy. But it’s not wrong. You’ve got some mixed up idea in your head that life is neat, that there’s a pattern, a prescription.”
“How’d you get to be so smart in so few years?”
“I watch a lot of TV.”
The salt shaker rested for a moment on the side of a grain of salt and Anne bent her head low to blow away the excess, to complete her magic trick. When she did the shaker fell over with a dull sound.
“Yeah, TV. In my day…”
“Right. Let’s move on. Let’s talk about something constructive like what we’re gonna do this afternoon. You wanna see the Impressionist show at The Dixon?”
“Ok. Though it concerns me what kind of Impressionist show Memphis can draw. I worry we’ll be looking at second or third rate paintings by the greats, or even second or third rate Impressionists.”
“Chick. It’ll still be a real experience, I promise. If it’s second rate Monet it’s still gonna be great, isn’t it?”
“Sure. Yeah. Let’s do that.”
Anne made one more stab at setting the shaker up on its side. It stood as firmly as a building in Pisa as Anne blew away the extra salt which left the shaker leaning seemingly by itself in the middle of the table. A grain of salt that was invisible balanced it: sorcery. They paid their check and left, holding hands. After they were out the door the waitress put the salt shaker back in its place and wiped the tabletop clean with a foul rag she kept hanging from her apron string.
told you we’d be disappointed.”
“Yes, I did. Was he officially an Impressionist? I mean, did he have the card, attend the meetings?
“Ha ha. Come here, art lover.”
Anne let herself fall back on the bed and Chick followed. When Anne lifted her shirt off over her head Chick was surprised anew at her breastless upper torso and the incredible slimness of her waist. Willowy, the word came unbidden. Her waist could almost make Chick cry.
Afterwards, in the kitchen, Anne was making a peanut butter sandwich.
“Did you buy honey?”
“Um, no. I didn’t. I’m sorry, am I out? Tutu, the little bear empty?”
“That’s okay. I’ll use this blackstrap.”
“Are you sure? Sounds dreadful.”
“You’re beautiful,” Chick said, ducking his head like a younger man.
“Mm,” Anne replied, licking peanut butter from her forefinger. “As are you.”
“No, I mean it. You’re so beautiful naked, so smooth. You’re like brand new, something unused, like fruit on the vine, or like pure gold, something man has not sullied yet.”
“Oh shit, Chick. I’m younger than you. Shut up.”
“I don’t get you.”
“That’s the subtext, isn’t it?
“I thought I was complimenting you.”
“Ok. Thank you.”
“And shut up.”
The relationship was a month old. Not one day went by when Chick didn’t feel at least a little ridiculous, yet Anne wasn’t a child. She was 21 and wiser than most other women her age, or so he told himself. So, what was the problem? Chick worried that it said something bad about him that he sought such a youthful lover, as if he were to be called before a tribunal of psychoanalysts and found wanting.
He was wanting all right. He wanted Anne day and night. Anne was a student at the midtown Art College and Chick was the manager of an art supply store a few blocks away. The proximity was painful in its temptation. Chick was smart enough, though, to know not to push too hard. When he called and Anne said she was studying he never questioned her further. He knew his need for her was a turn-off, though why that was built into the human animal was a mystery to him.
They had met when she came into his store and bought some oil paints. Though she was, she told him as if he had accused her of something, a sculptress; she worked in three dimensions. She painted sometimes on the side, she told him. She was sexy and slender and she flirted outrageously with him. He fell for her like a lemming going over a cliff.
When she broke off with Chick he could have predicted the language she would use. He could have written the conversation down ahead of time. It almost made him tired and bored to sit through it, except that it wracked him with pain, end-of-the-world anguish. She was leaving him
“You were never comfortable with us anyway,” she stated in her reasonable way.
“Right,” he said, anger bubbling in him like undigested food.
“Chick, I’d still like to see you,” Anne said and put a reassuring slim hand on his forearm. He looked at that hand and its heartbreaking comeliness and its almost transparent skin and the small brass ring she wore on her pinky and Chick began to cry.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Chick,” Anne said, but she looked around to see if anyone were watching. That hurt.
Chick stood up abruptly. His chair fell over. The other patrons of the diner looked in his direction. For a moment Chick felt as if he were about to do something unforgivable, something which would mark this moment for the rest of his life. It called for an imprint of unforgettable violence. He actually put his hands on the under-edge of the table—if turning over a chair upset everyone so much, what if he threw this table across the room?
But, of course, he didn’t. He didn’t even look Anne in the eyes as he left. He couldn’t know it at the time but he would never look into her eyes again.
On the way out he noticed on the table nearest the door, someone had balanced a salt shaker on one of its edges. Some magic, Chick thought, ungenerously. Cheap, shitty magic.
Corey Mesler is the owner of Burke’s Book Store, in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the country’s oldest (1875) and best independent bookstores. He has published poetry and fiction in numerous journals including Rattle, Pindeldyboz, Quick Fiction, Cranky, Thema, Mars Hill Review, and Poet Lore. He has also been a book reviewer for The Memphis Commercial Appeal. A short story of his was chosen for the 2002 edition of New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, published by Algonquin Books. Talk, his first novel, appeared in 2002, and it received praise from Lee Smith, John Grisham, Robert Olen Butler, Frederick Barthelme, and others. He has a new novel, We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon, due out in 2005 from Livingston. His latest three poetry chapbooks are Chin-Chin in Eden (2003) and Dark on Purpose (2004) and The Heart is Open (2005). He also claims to have written Seasons in the Sun. Most importantly, he is Toby and Chloe’s dad and Cheryl’s husband.
Copyright 2005, Corey Mesler. This work is protected under the U.S. copyright laws. It may not be reproduced, reprinted, reused, or altered without the expressed written permission of the author.