Revision project II

In groups of three, peer review the texts below. Use the second draft guide to shape your review. Be sure you address each question thoroughly.

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.

The Mystery of Intimacy

Bart has a wall of insects. Hundreds. They are dead, suspended in jars, on shallow shelves that cover his longest wall, and he has arranged them by color, starting with black beetles in one low corner with glowing blue butterflies in the opposite. Most days, boxes of new ones arrive in the mail. Every day, he sits at his computer and draws them for textbooks and museums. He has done this for years and goes for months traveling no farther from his studio apartment than the mailbox in the lobby. A quiet guy who likes his quiet.

Today, loud music throbs through his skylight. Someone is on the roof. No one is supposed to be up there at all, much less up there for hours. He could call the building’s manager, but instead he works and works, occasionally glancing up and he sees her, the woman on his roof. She’s sunning herself apparently, working on her tan, standing now in a sandstone orange bikini against a bright blue sky. She disappears. The music stops and he hears the crunch of her walk on the gravelly roof.

The next day, Bart sees her, the newest resident in the building, when he collects his mail after his daily run. The lobby of his building is wide and slightly dusty, but there is sunlight and an immortal fern. The staircase is narrow and squeaking and faces the door. Both walls are covered with numbered brass boxes, each with a tiny keyhole. His brass box is the biggest. Today there are five packages of specimens for him to illustrate and annotate.

“You get more mail than anyone I know,” she says.

Bart looks at the new shoes on his feet, shrugs, tries to smile and look like a fun person.

She says this in passing, on her way out the door, turning and looking over one shoulder. He’s older than her, but maybe not too much. Eyes as green as the cotinis nitida in a jar in his room. Far more attractive. Her attention feels good, a cool breeze on a warm day, but she waves and goes.

He stands in lobby for a while, watching where she used to be.

Early one morning a week later there is nothing in his mailbox but a postcard from China, from Sandra. He’d thought that Sandra hated him, was at the most indifferent, that of all the gone people in his life she was the most gone, but here it is, a postcard from her with a giant statue of the Buddha squatting like a golden mountain on one side and her handwriting, each letter sharp as a pincer, on the other. I was never going to write you again, she writes, but I’ve decided you’re a good 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 from the roof has crept up behind him, reads over his shoulder. Bart slaps the card to his chest. She backs away, coughing, a hand over her face, nodding so her hair drops in front of her eyes.

“I didn’t mean,” she starts. Bart thinks she is turning red, embarrassed, and he rests one ear on his shoulder trying to see her face so he can be sure, but she turns toward the door, her dark heels clapping on the linoleum floor.

He is not the kind of person who does this, he isn’t, the fear almost paralyzes him again, but he reaches for her elbow in its thin tan coat. She turns back. He peels the card off his chest, shows it to her, both sides, his hand warming between her arm and ribs as she reads and slowly smiles.

“Buddha,” she says and tries to pinch his stomach before she goes off to work.

That night he hears some odd knocking. It might, he thinks, be coming from the door of his apartment. When he opens the door, the woman who pinched him in the lobby is standing there.

“Can I borrow some coconut oil,” she says and steps inside. She wears old Levis shorts and a baggy shirt, covered in smudges of every color of paint. Smells like turpentine.

He doesn’t have any coconut oil and he knows it but he goes off looking, banging around in his kitchen cabinet.

“Wow,” she says. “These are beautiful.” He looks over his shoulder at her in front of his wall of insects. She holds a jar in one hand, turns it slowly. “I’m Julia,” she says.

“I have no coconut oil,” he says.

“You collect them?”

“They’re for my work.”

“Insecticide?” she says.

“Illustrations.”

“I love to paint,” she says, and pulls the corners of her shirt low and wide, offering it as evidence. “Come see sometime.”

“I will.”

“Olive oil, maybe?”

He pretends to look in his cabinets again as they talk about the software he uses and her paints. “Well. No luck,” he says finally.

“Butter, then.” Her teeth shine brighter than his button-down shirt, her skin is darker than his kakis and, once he’s back from the fridge, a stick of butter begins to melt in her hands.

“Thank you,” she says and goes.

His bed is under the eaves across from the wall of insects. He makes it every morning, the sheets tight enough a quarter will bounce up off of them. The bouncing fascinated Sandra when she used to come over. She’d bounce quarters, silver dollars, his wallet. Bart lays there, hands behind his head, looking up.

He’s written Sandra back, told her about his new clients, the longer distances he’s running, asked her every question about China. He’s hopeful, but not sure why or for what. On the other hand, the skylight is almost exactly above his desk, to his right. He can see through it from here, can even see a few bright stars in the dark sky.

And then there is a letter from Doctor Brackman. It is hand written, long flowing script, on expensive letterhead in an expensive envelope. Scribed, probably, with an expensive pen. Bart did not know there was a Mona Lisa stamp. Why doesn’t Brackman send email? He could do so with an expensive computer. Bart doesn’t plan to write back. Why would a therapist stalk a former patient? He’d imagined therapy as a conversation. Instead, he’d been classified and talked to like a specimen in a jar. It had been awkward. So, Bart finds the way Julie found, the path through the building to the roof, and burns the letter from his psychiatrist, looking down over the edge of the building to the street below. Ash flutters above Fords and Pontiacs.

None of his apartment is invisible through the skylight.

Her paintings are all this: Huge. Canvases seven or eight feet high and five or six wide. Crowding them, filling them, are big figures, all shoulders and chests with mounds heads and usually big claws for hands. And the figures are the colors of  scarabaeidae gronocarus inornatus or maybe more the Common Stag beetle, with the same hint of dark red and dusty black, but she’s used texture and shine to highlight the hands or claws, to contrast them with the body. The figures seemed male and threatening, faceless, and he noticed, explicitly anatomically incorrect. The backgrounds were all deep greens and behind each figure, peering over one shoulder was always a red or orange face. Clearly sad eyes. He didn’t want to think that the face looked feminine. At least twenty of these, with only the tiniest changes, almost filled the second of her two bedrooms. A twenty-first canvas resting on an easel, was slowing becoming like all the others. Far too many for them to be about him.

“What do you think?” she says.

The light is bright in here, bare bulbs from lamps. His hands are in his pockets and she reaches through, links their elbows there in front of the paintings. They bump against each other and she relaxes. He’s not often called upon to speak and has always been comfortable with silence as a reply to any question, but here and now he needs something to say.

“It’s powerful,” he says, “Standing in front of one of these.”

Julia smiles at him and she lets him listen while she talks about her cat Genghis, her work, family clothes, softball, politics, religion, secret societies, and the origins of life. But her bedroom door stays closed all night. When he goes home they watch each other at the opposite ends of their hall each peeping through the narrowing cracks as their doors close.

The next day, he leans against the right doorjamb and she leans against the left. Their legs touch. Between them, the bodybuilder in a suit smiles.

Julia says, “Can you watch my apartment for a week? I’m going to Los Angles. A show.”

“Your paintings?”

“What else?”

“Is it safe?” he says.

“Jeff Klay,” the bodybuilder says.  “You can call me Jeff.”  He leans in to shake Bart’s hand and does not try to pull his arm from its socket. There are no callouses on this stranger’s palm. “I’m an art agent. I love to work with young artists.”

They crowd Bart’s doorway.  “That’s great,” he says. “That rarely happens.” That happens so rarely, he thinks, it can’t be happening now.

“Jeff saw my work on the internet,” she says. “He might have buyers already.”

She seems so young to Bart suddenly, so prone to danger.

She says, “Live in my place for the week, if you want.”

Wait, he wants to say. Why LA now? Already? Go slow.

She hands him directions for her plants and a key.  Bart shoves his glasses back in place and part of him wishes he could open up Jeff’s skull, look inside, and know what he thought.

She doesn’t get much mail. Health magazines, Art News, catalogues. Most of it, he’d call junk mail, but maybe she likes it. He’d noted the twelve glowing green ferns, the weight set, lots of books of photographs, the endless oil paints and brushes last night. But when he taps the space key on her computer, Jeff Klay’s email comes up from a day ago. She just must have known him longer than that? Done a background check?

Her diary is an MP3 file on her desktop. He doesn’t listen to it. He’s already guilty enough.

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.

More of Doctor Brackman’s ashes float to the sidewalk.

Another postcard from Sandra. The first sentence of this one says her boyfriend is coming to visit her! He’ll be in China, too! Visiting and teaching English like her. Very, very exciting. She doesn’t mention when she will be coming home or his postcard or any of the questions he asked. The photo on the card is of the Great Wall.

Bart buys himself a nice white wine and pours two glasses. He fills Julia’s tub, slowly, with hot, hot water while he lies in its cold white interior, the bubbles growing, metastasizing maybe or blossoming, he’s never sure. He could get drunker, he supposes, but why? Steam fills the space above him, ghosts hidden in it. Eventually, he falls asleep there and wakes long enough later to have become a cold wrinkled prune. He watches himself in the mirror hanging from the back of her door, gets dry, and gets dressed.

When he writes Sandra back he says the visit from her boyfriend is fine with him. He says he’s not the one she has to explain such things to.

In his apartment, he changes into workout gear, the new expensive shoes, a favorite old, tattered tee-shirt. It’s getting late and dark, but he’ll be safe. Running predates every thing and one in his life. The sure, reliable thing.

He runs.

Julia is quiet when he gets back. She doesn’t talk, just watches the floor, the corners. He wonders for a moment if they are staring into the same corners. They almost meet where they always do. Instead, she is getting out of a cab at the curb, struggling to get her luggage over the wide wet sidewalk. He is getting his mail and comes down the shiny steps to help. The glow is gone from her eyes.

“Can I carry the bags up,” he says.

“I’ve got them,” she says. Something is wrong. She won’t look at him and he isn’t sure why. Was Jeff a problem? Can Bart ask her without making the hurt worse? He turns toward the stairs with her. That is where they are both going, up to their apartments, so close together, just a shared wall away.

But for some reason, still on the sidewalk, he looks back. And there, across the street, for some reason carefully not looking at him, refusing to see him, stands Sandra, back from China.

He stares at her until she, still always looking elsewhere, blushes.

Then Bart strides across the street.

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