The Last Streetcar

It was one of those days when she cried. It came like clockwork, every month, but she never knew exactly which day it would appear. And today it had happened while she was at work. She had been furiously emailing the old man, the one she argued with over long distances. She liked his poems, in their straightforward simplicity. Always consistent. Always the same voice. Unlike her own, which sometimes wavered, was often distraught, then madly hilarious and playful, finally somnolent. They had been arguing back and forth all day over something. She thought they were arguing about how a person could tell if their poetry was any good or not. Mike had said that what they were really arguing about was love.

The old man was his traditional condescending self, doling out his pat sentiments like hard little cupcakes upon which she gagged. She knew it was almost useless to argue with him, as concession or compromise was not in his vocabulary when it came to her, and only her. He could never forgive her for having loved her. They had had blissful days, when they would stroll up and down the cement sidewalks; he--pontificating on everything from the state of his cataracts to the state of the union. And she would listen intently, stopping now and then to pluck a flower, breaking his long train of thought as he fell suddenly from his tower of words and noticed the color of her hair in the twilight.

They would repeat this ritual all the next day, without variation, except that she stopped listening. Like the clang of the streetcars, the squealing of brakes, the flashing of headlights and streetlights, his voice melted into the gray stream of the city, and she became a ghost carried along like a pale flower. Or maybe she was the only real thing in the hubbub; the only one looking into children's eyes, trying to decipher the airy messages of the passersby, the drivers, the women with yellow parcels, the tattooed man on the motorbike, the faint smell of carbon monoxide in the air as the dead swept past her. And finally he would notice that her interjections had ceased, that she failed to utter even the simplest, "Oh" or "Oh really" or "Yes." And then he would stop and face her and take both her hands somewhat awkwardly and cock his head slightly to one side to catch her gaze which always fell slightly to the left of him. He would sigh, "Are you tired? What am I going to do with you?" And they would sit on the bench outside the little Chinese laundry, the light inside and the faint humming and bumping of the machines like the ever-constant turning of the underbelly of the city singing its goodnight song out the open door to them as they gazed up and down the darkening street at nothing in particular. Sometimes they would say nothing, mutually reflecting on the day that had passed, which always reminded them that one of them had to leave in a day or so. And then their thoughts would drift to that house by the woods or ocean where there were no leave-takings, no goodbyes.

The last streetcar ground to a stop at the bottom of the hill as the tired conductor jerked the lever one last time. They slowly climbed back up the long steps into the apartment. He had prepared the big bouncy featherbed for her, nervously turning on the glaring overhead light as she slowly removed the day's clothes from her body. He rearranged things on top of the dresser, talking fluently about the prices of the sheets and where he had bought them and the sharp turn the Dow had taken, glancing over furtively at the strange wild animal he had brought into his bedroom; until he could stand it no longer and came and grabbed her, making her laugh as he kissed her breasts, falling onto the bed, accidentally hitting her chin with his head, then kissing her chin and lips. It was like romping in a warm snowdrift, the sheets and pillows falling, a quiet luxurious storm that fell around them and silenced the city, leaving only their small white breaths burning slowly.

She was a black alley cat, falling into a thick sleep full of warm milk and licked fur.  He was like a Jack Russell Terrier, on guard all night, going to the window to make sure the city was still there. He tossed and turned all night on the couch, like a plastic chew toy caught in a shallow whirlpool, sinking momentarily into dark blue shadows, then popping up unceremoniously into the tick-tock of the clock. As soon as she awakened, he would set down his newspaper, click off the T.V., and start the coffee. She always tried to stay in bed, prolonging the time when she would have to leave--the awkward leaving, the checking of watches and weather after the luxury of the bath, another attempt at staying--the pouring of hot water onto her limbs, the coffee into her lips, the sadness into her, and the wondering, knowing that when she crossed the bridge in her little black electric car, the distance would expand, their time together would grow small. He became like the tiny white sailboat on the bay. She could see him, but she could no longer hear him.

In their frustration over the distance between them, they banged on the keyboards, argued over semantics, arrows of accusations falling about them endlessly. Helpless, all she could do was polish the little ceramic lighthouse she had bought in Sausalito on their last trip together. All that light inside that forbidding fortress. Like Sausalito itself, crammed up against the side of the cliff, she always felt as if she were about to fall—a sudden earthquake, an out-of-control car on the sharp turn through the village, and all her blue dreams of him and her and the sea would come tumbling down like a glass case full of nautical knick-knacks.

And when it did, fall, there was nothing she could do but take down the wooden carved sea captain and try to burn him in the fireplace. All she managed to do was make a big smoldering mess, but at least his eerie wicked smile had burned off. Even the dog could not leave it alone, dragging the burned wooden chunk into the yard, burying it, then digging it up again.

After she died a couple of years later, too early, from cancer, the movers came and packed it all up for the Salvation Army. It was Joe Fadducci's son who ended up with the lighthouse. Pressing the little button to turn on its steady night light in his dark bedroom, he clutched the stuffed Jack Russell Terrier and the black furry cat as he fell asleep, trying to imagine in his eight-year-old mind what love was, dreaming that it had something to do with streetcars and sailboats.

 

© Eskimo Pie Girl