I remember everything about Dolly the first time I saw her and almost nothing about my self. Was I happy? Sad? Confused? Lonely? Driven? In great shape still or a wreck like I am today? Hairy or hairless? The prince or the toad? I can’t seem to remember being anything other than the bitter old me I’ve become. Useless old animal hands. Blessed is the forgetting. But I remember Dolly, what Dolly looked like, the tensile strength of her warm grip and that everyone in those days was walking around with a telephone. Talking not to the phones but to each other! The phones were merely a medium. You won’t know what I mean by that. You’ll shake your heads; you’ll wink at each other.
Too much has happened. Maybe it will come back. I will come back. As I talk about it. Get it off my chest. They told me to record my thoughts, all of my thoughts, don’t be selective. They said that they’ll be the ones to worry about what to throw away and what to keep and despite the fact that I’m more than sure (delusions of grandeur, right?) that I can out-talk anything’s capacity to record me, talking about it might bring, in the archaic parlance of a long-gone culture, ‘closure.’ It might even be what people who once read better books than the people who once said ‘closure’ called ‘cathartic’. Submit ‘cathartic’ and the know-it-all thingy will inform you that it comes from the Greek, meaning ‘to cleanse.’ I could use some of that now. I look around me at all these gleaming white surfaces and let me tell you I feel like the rag that was used to clean them.
Twenty five years ago. There was a lot more sex then. It took two, three, maybe four people sometimes to do it, actually. You’re snickering at that. On the day in question, the day I’ll call Dolly Day (or D-Day) from now until the end of time, I had just turned thirty and had been feigning horror for weeks, for thirty is the last milestone one can truly afford to mock. So true. Thirty is like the girl you’ll never forget or the song you’d forgotten you’d loved more than any other song you ever knew. Thirty is as fragile as an egg; a skull.
The sun was coming out after a terrific little tantrum of weather, on D-Day. It was the middle of May and the cloudburst was winter’s parting shot. Like an antique soldier charging, bayonet extended, after all the bullets are gone. The Daguerreotype buffoon in his mustache and his long underwear. The sun that emerged was so vital and fierce that it murdered the clouds and got busy drying the sidewalks and I was so warm, suddenly. It was so suddenly summer. The sidewalks steaming. I carried my jacket over an arm and walked up the hill past the park, looking for a café for breakfast and the café that I chose was the café that Dolly was sitting in front of, soaking up the rays with her eyes shut, smiling at the sky. I’m thinking, in retrospect: I’ll bet the sky knew. You know? I’ll bet it winked at her.
People of the past strike us as being so stupid. We know everything they knew plus everything we know and they knew only what they could have known at the time. The people of the past are like country bumpkins. Excuse me but it’s like watching a retarded or blind person walking right for an open manhole. All you can do is gaze with open-mouthed incredulity. You almost have to laugh.
I remember trying to remember the word for omelet. I ordered an omelet which came with two diagonally halved slices of toast, a pat of butter, a decorative wedge of orange and a suspicious sprig of parsley. Suspicious because I had a friend who claimed that the parsley was often recycled; he never ate it but also never left it on his plate. He’d slip it in his pocket with compressed lips and a curt nod like he was doing his civic duty. His jacket pockets were full of brittle sprigs of parsley. He later turned out to have a screw loose.
Inside the café was dark with cigarette smoke and greasy light bulbs and a half a dozen tables of couples and trios in dark clothing at work on their cappuccinos and puffing on Marlboro’s and complaining about either or both of the new governments. I told the waitress I’d be sitting outside and she handed me a rag to wipe my seat with.
Dolores and I were the only ones in the sun. The sun’s news hadn’t yet reached the cryptish-cool depths of the café. And I stared while wiping the seat of a chair at a table that was neither too close nor too far. I stared because I thought her eyes were safely shut but on closer inspection I would have seen her eyelids fluttering, sneaky little thing but the rag I was using on the rain-beaded seat was too wet already and didn’t much help to dry the seat. It was wet and greasy and Dolores, who was peeking, laughed as though she was watching a Chaplin film. Then she handed me her orange scarf. Orange. As they say: there are no accidents in this clever world.
“Oh no, I couldn’t.”
“I used it to dry my seat. Why shouldn’t you?”
“Use it, take it home, wash it and dry it and return it to me tomorrow. As long as there are tomorrows, yes?” The trinket of her laughter. “I trust you to return it.”
I remember being nervous talking to her; not just because she was so beautiful but because of the age difference, which was obviously significant, without me having to ask. Anything seeing us talking… flirting… would be sure to think: what does this pervert want? With her? What a face she had. Her face the first time I saw it was half- dream, half-cat, voluminously-wrinkled like satin. Tooth translucence.
She was carrying already, of course. What I thought of as a stringent, crushing, unearthly beauty at the time (30! The last-call!) was, in fact, the oracular fingerprint. A fingerprint from the angel of that particular attitude towards extinction. The angel pressed his faint red fingerprint hard on the paper of her old white face and I mistook the blood-pattern for beauty. I gallantly offered to buy her a chamomile tea, if I recall correctly. Not that you’d know what that is. Hot water?
I keep telling them it was already in her the day we met but they don’t believe me. If I could speak with someone face to face I’m pretty sure I could convince them. Communication isn’t only about words but none of you seem to trust me; you feel safer on the other side of that glass, don’t you? But you aren’t.