Her window invaded my screen. Her text was script, a little too small, hard to read. “My organist friend,” it began, “flaked. I have an extra ticket. Privates on Parade.”
This from some kind of nun. She wore a scapular. I had no idea what it meant. She would only say “Mary gave it to Stock.” She was a slow typist, always talking shorthand. I often wished her sentences longer. I had to turn off the bells: they rang every time she hit enter. She desired me at seven thirty.
It was four, and Brisi was barking in the garden. When the ravens descended on the pond, or a kingfisher perched on the weeping cherry, she always barked. Protecting the koi was her job, and she did it with great enthusiasm. I went out, and only saw part of the watersnake. There was no way I was reaching my hand in there after. Besides, Brisi was patient, and I needed clothes.
Suit or tux? Professor’s uniform? Maybe the French look: half rolled sleeves, loose tie. What does one wear in DC? I was too new to know. I decided academic was safest, and went back to playing at civilization. Brisi kept barking as the darkness began to surround us.
She honked exactly on time. I guess she couldn’t come to the door. It did look a little foreboding, zebra grass lining the walk, the twin wisteria twirling wrought iron would have seemed like snares. I descended the steps, realizing I’d guessed wrong.
Elegant cashmere draped her shoulders. Strapped sandals. She looked like she should be in a chariot drawn by doves. I could barely see the outline of her scapular. I shouldn’t have been looking there. A few drops of rain splashed on the windshield, and darkened my sleeves.
I tried to give her directions, but wasn’t much of a pathfinder, and she’d lived here for years. Her foot was lead on the Chrysler as she chose 16th.
The streets of DC are no way to get anywhere. They are double feature theaters, each playing a different bill, which changes depending on time of day. At midmorning, it would have been an opera of business skirts, at mid-afternoon a spectacle of exotica near the embassies. But now the saris had mostly disappeared, replaced by London Fog and the occasional greyhound. I thought of Parish, but that was wrong. Rhode Island Avenue was showing Louis Icart: “Lady with Two Languid Dogs.” Brisi would have been out of place.
Parking seemed an awkward chorus of ‘maybe there’s, but the streets were all taken. Someone had forgotten to tie a rope across a jewelry store’s entrance, and she decided to risk it. She held her umbrella at the ready, as if in self-defense from the street, maybe from me. I didn’t share her thoughts, I was too busy scanning the scene.
Three blocks to the theater seemed an endless journey of silence. What would I find to say? I practiced in my head. Maybe the landscape of Paris? No, she’d been there. California seemed out of place. I was just settling on Père Ubu when she joined me on the sidewalk.
I needn’t have worried, she had it completely covered: the plot, the reviews, the movie with John Cleese. Her season pass, and the difficulties of finding proper accompaniment. The district was turning into theaters and galleries. “Ah, here we are.”
It was a small place, and even smaller inside. We were seated in the half round. Things began well enough, the actors were well practiced. But I was not. I’d never been so close to her before. Barely an inch separated our arms. I lost the plot concentrating on not crossing that inch. The actors sang poorly, and there was much marching on the tiny stage. It was five paces: one two three four, turn in uniform. I could see the prompt girl, holding her script. I needed one.
The same prompt girl mingled with us at intermission. We stood around, drinking cheap wine at three fifty a cup. I was wrongly dressed, the women were flowers of gems and silk. They looked right through me: they looked at her.
Act two, and the late arrivals, now seated, made the rows even more cramped. The prompt girl announced a midstream change of cast: we were to reconceive James as Capt. Terri, and would hear no further of Sgt. Bonny. There was nothing for it, my shoulder touched hers. The play continued anyway. The scene backdrops didn’t fall. Only the thunder, close by, but dampened by windowless concrete blocks, acknowledged the change.
Even though I tried to concentrate, I missed many more plot elements. We arrived at the ultimate song. Men were marching again, but this time with a twist. The privates really were on parade. I glanced over at her, to see how she was taking it. She was staring. I was so close to her, I could glance down her neckline. There was the scapular, simple and brown, a rough cord holding it in place.
And then the scene was over. The lights came up. Actors returned to the stage, but now in robes for their bow. Everyone applauded. Some of the actresses curtsied too low. Not for my taste, but perhaps for hers. I felt oddly responsible.
We walked out to rain and lightning. Beneath the marquee, she opened her umbrella. It was far too small, a stylish suggestion of shelter, and even then it threatened to fly. She asked me to hold it, and she wrapped herself around my arm as we walked, closer in this occasionally lit open space than inside the theater. She barely noticed the thunder, and I had the strange impression it couldn’t hurt us, that it was a mere backdrop for the scene someone else was watching. All part of the set design.
Driving back, she was bright and chatty. When we stopped, the scapular was between us. I didn’t know what to do. I kissed her hand.
W.F. Lantry, a native of San Diego, has had work published recently in seventeen separate and unique countries, including Texas, in Kestrel, Literal Latté, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, protestpoems.org, Istanbul Literary Review, Spilling Ink Review and Aesthetica, among others. In 2010 he won the CutBank Patricia Goedicke Prize, the Lindberg Foundation International Peace Prize (in Israel), the Crucible Poetry Prize, and the Birmingham-Southern College National Hackney Literary Award in Poetry. He currently works in Washington, DC. and is a contributing editor of Umbrella: A Journal of Poetry and Kindred Prose. His website is: http://wflantry.com/