In a group of three or four, practice revision by changing the text below. Make these changes with the questions I’ll ask as I evaluate you work in mind. In other words, the changes you make as a group should be dramatic and deep, much more than sentence level.
The Mystery of Intimacy
I keep all my memories in neat little envelopes. I keep all my envelopes in a messy little drawer in an old desk where I sit every day. The envelopes aren’t all white, but many colors, sometimes even postcards from nations miles and miles away.
The desk sits snug against the wall under a Norman Rockwell print. My studio apartment is big, with huge windows and a giant skylight. The rug is faded and the futon is old but I’m happy here. No one comes to interrupt me. They are all in other parts of the world both literally and figuratively. But I do have Genghis Cat, curled up in the window ledge, orange and red.
On the roof above my apartment is a woman. She tans herself, I believe, and I can hear her music and listen to her walk on the gravelly roof. When she stands I see her. The next day I see what I think is her when I go to get my mail.
“You get more mail than anyone I know,” she says.
I look at my feet, shrug try to smile, and look like a fun person.
She has said this in passing, on her way out the door, turning and looking over her shoulder. She is a little older than I am, probably late twenties. Her eyes are round. They watch me for a long time. She waves and goes.
After watching her leave, I slowly climb the stairs, to my computer. I lie on my bed under the window and the cat and ponder women’s names instead of doing my work.
One week later I stand in the lobby, in front of the mail boxes, laughing over a card from Sandra who is in Taiwan. I thought that Sandra hated me, that she was never going to write me again but here it is, a postcard with a giant statue of the Buddha on one side and Sandra’s scratchy pen marks on the other. I was never going to write you again, she writes, but you’re a nice guy and I would touch you with a ten-foot pole anytime, so here is a picture of the Buddha who you should try to look more like, you Gandhiesque, heroin addict look-a-like you.
The woman who was on my roof has snucked up behind me and reads over my shoulder. I slap the card to my chest. She backs away and coughs, nodding her head so her black hair falls in front of her eyes.
“I didn’t mean,” she starts. I think she is turning red, embarrassed, and I rest one ear on my shoulder trying to see her face. She turns and starts toward the door, her dark heels clapping on the wood floor.
I reach out and touch her elbow. I show her the card. I let her read it. She tries to pinch my stomach before she goes.
“Buddha,” she says, and she is off to work.
Back to my computer.
Three of the four walls of my apartment are covered books. It looks like wallpaper is what Sandra used to say. I’m a fact checker. I help get people through college. I help newspapers and magazines. Books and facts fill my apartment. My job is to condense them, reduce them, take specifics and make abstractions, short ones, and then email them away. Also, on the side, I write Hallmark cards.
I do get lots of letters, and some email, from friends and enemies, old and new.
Handwriting is beautiful.
I work with my computer. The cat curls up, sometimes, on top of it. It’s a warm thing. Writing longhand letters is a break from typing. A change in tempo.
At night the woman from the mail box comes home. I can hear her climb the steps, and later, through the walls, I smell paint thinner. The good light fades from my room and I click on my father’s lamp and the printer. It churns noisily. Paper falls out of it and she knocks at the door.
She said, “Can I borrow some Vaseline?” and wanders in. I go looking, banging through a medicine chest. She wears old cut-off Levis and a baggy shirt, very colorfully spotted and she smells, somehow, like dandelions.
“I’m Julia,” she says.
I’m out of Vaseline.
“Butter, then.” Julia’s teeth shine whiter than my button-down shirt. She is tanner than my tan pants and, once I’m back from the fridge, a stick of butter begins to melt in her hands.
“Thanks,” and she goes. The cat follows her out, a bright orange spot that weaves itself around her legs.
The next day Doctor Brackman writes me. I don’t write him back because he thinks he knows me. He was my therapist, but I have recovered from him faster than he has recovered from me. Doctor Brackman has put me in a box and has decided what I am for me, without asking. I burn his letter, unread and on the roof, looking down over the edge to the street below. Ash flutters above the Fords and Pontiacs.
None of my apartment is invisible through the skylight.
I miss her for a few days and then she comes knocking.
“Coffee?” She buttons her coat as she talks.
I like herbal tea.
“They have that too,” she says. The streets are wet, the worms are out and her teeth are bright. My hands are in my pockets and she reaches through, links our elbows. We bump against each other and relax. The wind lifts her long dark hair.
The coffee house is crowded and loud with conversation. Smoke, like a mob of ghosts, hangs from the ceiling, mirroring us below. We share drinks and her Java is good.
I listen to her talk for a long time about everything. And then she asks me questions about my work, the apartment, Genghis Cat, my family, my clothes, soft ball, politics, religion, secret societies, and the origins of life. I answer with the facts at my disposal.
We go home and watch each other at the opposite ends of our hall, each unbolting a lock and peeping through the cracks as our doors close.
Saturday she wears a black belt and a white cotton karate uniform. “I need someone to spar with.”
I look at my finger nails and frown. I am busy with work to do. Fighting is not something I like.
“It will be easy,” Julia says. She leans against the right doorjamb and I lean against the left. Our legs touch. Julia points toward my aluminum bat. “Bring that,” she says, then, “I won’t hurt you.”
I shrug and we wander down to her apartment.
In the center of her floor is a canvas and foam mat. She stands in the middle of it.
“Attack me,” she said.
I lean on my bats and want to be somewhere else. Our eyes are comfortable together, hers and mine. Her arms are in front of her, knees bent, feet wide. I watch her until she relaxes and then I charge, bat high, aiming for her dimples. I’m not sure what happens but she throws me. I am above the mat then past it, arching over kitchen tiles; I crack the floor, my head bounces and I slide under her bar stools. The bat spins toward Genghis Cat who hisses out of its way. My ears ring and bright white fire-flies float in the room. Stars.
She has smelling salts and cold water and I count her fingers three or four times. She tells me not to move and curls next to me on the floor.
“You surprised me,” she says. “I wasn’t ready.”
The next week Julia says, “Can you watch my apartment for a week? I’m going to Bermuda.” The bodybuilder in a suit next to her smiles. They crowd my door way. She says, “Live in my place for the week if you want.”
“Jeff Klay,” he says. “You can call me Jeff.” He does not try to pull my arm from its socket and there are no callouses on his palm when we shake.
She hands me directions for her plants and a key. I shove my glasses back in place and part of me wishes I were him. Just part.
She doesn’t get much mail. A health magazine, Art News, some catalogs. Lots of junk mail. Her apartment is interesting, nonetheless. Twelve glowing green ferns, a weight set and some books: military history, martial and other arts. Books of photographs. Endless paints and brushes and watercolors. She is not a very good painter. Yet, anyway. Her desk has just bills and receipts.
A stick of unused butter rests in her fridge. It sits there neatly on the wire rack, almost posed and with mostly Italian food, big purple eggplants, and oranges. No meat.
She has condoms in her night stand. Mace too. Not much lingerie, but lots of other clothes. Dark suit pants and bright blouses, yellows and reds, but few shoes. Her tub is old, with claws for feet. It is smooth and white and she has lots of ways to make bubbles. Doesn’t make her bed.
A nice stereo and hundreds of CDs. Her diary is an MP3 file. I don’t listen. I don’t even open her browser. I’m already as guilty as can be.
Nothing to write with in the entire apartment. Nothing.
While Julia is gone Sandra writes me again. I slice open the envelope and think of her licking it shut. She writes I should get a real job, like her, but something in banking, she says. I hate ties and pin-striped suits. An accountant, she writes. I hate numbers. When is Sandra coming home? Her students love her, but they’re all chauvinist pigs. Sandra and I got along much too well. We should have fought more. I dream of her for the first time.
More of Doctor Brackman’s ashes float to the sidewalk.
Looking, also, for a postcard from Bermuda.
I buy a nice, white wine and pour two glasses. I soak in Julia’s tub, in hot, hot water, bubbles high, almost mountains around me and drink, first one glass, then the other. I fall asleep there eventually and wake up a cold pale prune. The steam has faded out of the room. As I dry myself, I watch me in the mirror on the back of her bathroom door.
That night I start writing about softball bats and kung fu, things I’ve never thought worth paper before.
I am getting my mail when she comes home alone, days early. One eye is swollen shut, black and green. She has stitches on her nose, an arm in a sling. I pocket my letters and take the bags from the taxi driver. Upstairs, I unpack her stuff. I know where everything goes. Julia is quiet. She doesn’t talk, just watches the floor, the corners. Her arms are crossed, the fingers of her right hand jutting out of her cast, holding her left elbow.
What’s the grammar here? The truth and ethics of this situation? I take a pen from my pocket and write my phone and apartment numbers in large red letters. She knows these things, I know, but I want to be found, if finding is even what’s right. When I open the door to go Genghis comes in and rests on her lap. And this is okay with me. I look at Julia and wave. She waves back.
Two or three that morning my phone rings, wakes me up. I cross the hall.
“Think I’m bad, you should see him.” Julia smiles for a second, but that’s all. Her face falls into tears. She cries long and slow sobs in my arms. We curl up, clothed, together on her couch and she whispers things I can’t and don’t want to understand.
Finally she sleep, but its full of kicks and twitches, nothing deep or restful about it. I watch her until I nod off too.
Her moving wakes me. She separates, untangles us quickly. Stands wary, feet wide, eyes dark and flat on the other side of the room. I swallow and blink and totter toward the door, shirt and pants wrinkled as used aluminum foil. My room is crowded with sunlight and my bed is cold but somehow I sleep until late in the afternoon. Then I call my mom and my little sister. All I can say is hello.
Later, when Julia and I walk to the women’s crisis center, she is quiet and close but not touching me.
Not at all.