Danielle Dutton

from S P R A W L

We have arrived at a place based on the idea that the past never existed. We set out intentions for public imagination, educational software, rumpus rooms, etc. Haywood makes dinner on an indoor grill. A bee flies up and down outside the window, bumping the glass, hovering above plates on the patio. Fruit is rotting on the trees, and the bee lives on after the death of the fruit. He is rejuvenated by past forms in my yard. He’s a good sport. Just then a shy bird lands in the branches. I’m so near the bird we’re practically neighbors! All of a sudden there’s another bird, a black one, and then two red ones, and then another that is both red and black. The two red birds face the black one and I watch as they roll and wrestle among the leaves. Then a fallen petal signals some sort of retreat. The red birds spring past me and out of the yard entirely. It was the only battle I’ve ever witnessed. That night Haywood seems to move toward a derisive nickname. He’s perfectly right to do so. In the morning heat I look like pudding, or I sound like a mosquito squeaking under a mattress, or I fuck like a secretary with her hands full of paper. But I have sudden ideas like a fox, so many ideas, scenes, sudden beauty. So I sit on a cushion and write a letter to the seventeenth-century Dutch still-life painters grouping them according to taxonomic phenomena: animals (pheasant, gorse, dogs, cow, stag) and plants (melon, sweet cherries, leeks, gourds, pumpkin, blue grapes, lettuce, brambles, berries). The table has all its own categories: stale crusts of bread, wine stains, orange peels, stacks of plates, crumpled pink paper napkins, strawberry stems, dirty flatware, cat hairs, walnut shells. I answer the phone twenty-seven times. “Who’s there?” I say, but no one answers. It’s like a sick and moody privacy, so I wear ruffles and read alone in the afternoon, fully absorbed by dangerous propaganda and fits of laughter. I flip through magazines that advise about weight-loss, fashion, sexual dramatization, what is “hip” and what is “square.” Unhappy people are analyzed with the latest vogues in impersonality. I eat a banana on my side by a tree. I smack my lips and shout at people who ride by in cars. This is incredibly exciting for me. Among certain groups of women, shouting at strangers has become a way to contrast oneself with particular social pressures. Lisle and I used to drive up and down Main Street on weekend nights in a kind of parade of increasing and decreasing speed, contraception, and overall total movement. Haywood, at that age, drove a motorcycle and played two outdoor sports. Today he is unlikely to participate in such customs. So I send him to the store to shop for milk, flour, and eggs. These are my own ideas about modern cake decorating: after baking cool thoroughly, remove with caution; use the proper icing; the rose is the loveliest flower made with the tube. At different parties I see cakes that look like Barbie, or grand pianos, or golf courses, or Holiday Inns, or silver bells, or bowling alleys, or carousels, or hearts, spades, clubs, and diamonds, or guitars, or Bibles, or flags, or flowers, or duck hunters, or French poodles, or holiday baby booties, or hands in prayer, or horseshoes, or girl scouts, or clown heads, or patriotic fish, or racecars, or woven baskets, or country scenes, or psychedelic dancers, or the moon. There are different cakes for different occasions, some involving children, or sleeping children, or monster trucks, or battles for statehood. Meanwhile, there’s a spatial plunge behind the dark oaks on the edge of town. The mayor wants to shut it down or build a fence around it. “It’s like a dead word,” he tells us. It’s rumored all over town he cries in his sleep: “Wasted space!” Preparations are made. Grim men gather at City Hall. This is only the first meeting. After a few days they manage to successfully redecorate the interior of the city offices. These are events of large civic significance and depend upon progress and reasons. That’s the exciting thing. The whole town is interchangeable. Everyone listens to the same song at the same time, so we dance together under the stars (gold flecks in the ceiling). In bed that night I imagine a complex floral design with thin patches and some complete holes. I crank my arm faster and faster without brakes. Haywood says, “You are the victim of some mechanical metaphors.” He has many possibilities available to him, things to talk through, and reasons to be suspicious.

Danielle Dutton designs books for Dalkey Archive Press and is editor of Dorothy, a publishing project. Her first book was Attempts at a Life. Her second, S P R A W L, is now available from Siglio Press.

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