Thursday, January 21, 2010

Francois Bucher, pt 3


The kitchen in the Nautilus Foundation was not state of the art. The oven did not work and the stove top was one of those crappy electric kinds where the eyes never settle right after you try to clean it. The refrigerator was of indeterminate color and probably from Sears, bought new sometime in the late eighties. There was no dishwasher, and when I moved in no coffee maker. Looking back I think that things must've fallen into disrepair when the girlfriend moved out, perhaps she took the coffee maker. I met the ex girlfriend only once, when she came to sort out a shipment of art they had bought together on a trip long before.
Francois called me into the library to meet M. and see the puppets they were pulling out of a trunk. The puppets were made of human skin. M. was tall and lean with short blond hair and strong hands. She looked like a woman who would be more comfortable riding an elephant than cooking supper, and she barely registered me as she pulled the puppets from their wrappings. They looked like tiny angry mummies. I stood for a moment off to the side but left quickly, the air in the library that day was sharp and thick and I did not like the way that Francois was so giddy or she so absorbed in her task. She was only there a few hours.
What made the kitchen wonderful wasn't the appliances. It was obviously a kitchen for a man of the mind and not the stomach. There was a butcher block and wooden table where we would take our coffee and meals. There was a back door that was always open for the dogs to come in and go out, and you could see the pond from that doorway. Against one wall was the giant hutch that hid the secret passageway, and up on the wall that the kitchen shared with the front room was a painting by Paul Gauguin. The painting was one from his Tahitian period with bare breasted ladies reclining in the shade of fat leafed trees. I loved those ladies, they looked so wise and so lazy, and I loved that I could reach out and touch the whirls of paint that made them.
As soon as I moved in I insisted we get a coffee maker. At first Francois protested that instant was just as good, and certainly good enough for him, but I began too brew freshly ground organic french roast with cinnamon in the basket, and he began to hum as he drank it. I would find him there in the morning with his first cigarette and his coffee mug, naked aside from graying briefs, slightly reclined with one leg crossed over the other. I would pour a cup and start taking fruit out of the freezer for our smoothies.
I made a smoothie in the morning for myself because I liked it, and I began to make one for him because he was intrigued and he had trouble with his bowels. Fruit, soy milk, flax seed, spirulina, he called it his "smoozie" and I think this is the first thing that made him love me. Company was fine, hot meals at night were good, but get him to take a morning shit and all was right in the world. He would hug me and call me his "Wiggly Girl".
On the back of the stove were the few spices he had when I moved in. It was the first time I'd ever seen a shaker of MSG for private use and it just seemed wrong so I tucked it toward the back of the cabinet. There were salt and pepper and paprika and a small glass jar that held little silver lumps, roughly the size and shape of Hershey's kisses. One day, when I thought of it and we were both in the kitchen I held the glass jar up and said "Francois? What is this?"
"Oh those? Those are teapots!" he sounded positively gleeful. "Sometimes? When I put the teapot on the stove? And I walk away for a little while? I come back and they look like that!"
I was enchanted. There were about five in there and I had no idea how long it would take to melt down an entire teapot to a Hershey's Kiss shaped lump.
"May I have one?" I said.
After smoozie making and coffee drinking and talking talking talking I would beg off and drive to school. Auto mechanics was not going as I had imagined it would go and each day I would get a little more down. I liked the teacher, he was a good old boy local with thin white hair and sparkly blue eyes. Most of the guys in the class had been working on cars their whole lives and the teacher spent most of his time trying to break them of bad habits. "Not everything can be fixed by hitting it with a hammer" I remember him saying.
We balanced and rotated tires, we changed oil, we tinkered with our own cars. I wasn't accepted as part of the group and spent a lot of time away from the garage and in the classroom supposedly reading my ASE textbook, but really writing letters to college friends. Sometimes in the morning I would pick up a dozen donuts from the Krispy Kreme for the guys, but though they ate them, they didn't smile at me. One guy let me help him rebuild the carburetor on his daughter's VW Bug, but that was the extent of my coed interaction, unless the prof made them include me.
One day a car caught fire in the parking lot and we rushed out en masse to watch it burn. Just as we got there the teacher yelled out, "STAY BACK! THERE MIGHT BE A GUN IN THE GLOVE BOX!" and we all hit the dirt, expecting bullets to come whizzing out at any second. That did not happen, and he calmly sprayed the car down with a fire extinguisher. "Let that be a lesson to you." he said. "You never know if there's gonna be a gun in a burning car." I never forgot that. Years later I saw another car on fire and I GOT BACK. I turned to the person next to me and said, "There might be a gun in there. You never know."
I would come home in the evenings and do my homework and make supper. Francois was always eager for my return and often had something to show me. One time it was a Bible in Aramaic, over 400 years old. One time it was a video of a party he'd had where everyone was quite drunk and played the most intellectual game of charades I had ever seen. One time it was a cartoon he'd drawn, portraying him hanging off the side of a cliff and me up at the top, reaching down to take his hand. He told me stories about the things in the house, about Einstein's couch in the hallway to the gallery (which I jumped on one time when he wasn't home and it made a horrible SPROING! noise and I leaped off and one of the dogs looked at me like he was utterly disgusted). He told me about his wild and beautiful daughter. He told me about getting old.
There was so much talking, and I was so quiet. I'd seen so little of the world and I felt I had nothing to contribute. He took my silence as fascination and maybe reverence, and one day he told me that he had been thinking he might let me write his memoirs. I wanted nothing to do with his memoirs. I wanted to be young and free and have adventures of my own. I wasn't a scholar, and the more he talked and the more he wanted me to stay home to listen the more I began to resent his need. I could kick myself now, but that's how it was. It frightened me to have someone need me so much. Anything that took me away from him was degraded. He felt I needed to cut the apron strings of my family, he felt that my friends were a frivolous distraction, he even tried to convince me that my long distance boyfriend was probably up to no good. "I just don't know about this Steve" he would say, which infuriated me because his name wasn't Steve.
Perhaps he saw in me an intelligence, a spark that I've never given myself credit for. I'd like to think that, and not believe that he was just so lonely that he would have adopted practically anyone who showed him kindness. I think at one time he was a lion, and in my quiet listening and careful cooking, in my manners and naivete, he saw himself resurrected in my eyes. I hugged his old bones and made him feel young. I gave him an audience.
I began to walk in the evenings as well, just to have some time to think. He decided he would join me, and so at night we would walk up the driveway to the road, back down to the creek, and back to the house. Sometimes I would go in with him and sometimes I would say good night and head out, walking fast, fast as I could. After the careful constitutional we shared my alone walk felt like flying. I felt I could just take off into the night and never come back.
On one of those nights a storm came. I was about a mile and a half out when the stars disappeared and the sky let loose. The rain came down hard and fast. Thunder and lightning toppled all over each other with no break in between. The wind pressed the trees down sideways and threw branches on the road. I was afraid like I've never been, afraid of the storm and afraid of the cars because there was no sidewalk or shoulder, just road, gushing ditch, and fence. I followed the fence to a break and walked up the driveway to the house at the end. When I knocked on the door and asked to use the phone the woman there was wary and wouldn't let me inside. I was astounded that she would be scared of me, even after I explained who I was and where I was staying. It was as if she didn't believe that I was just out walking, even though I was wearing only a tank top, shorts and running shoes and clearly carrying nothing in my hands. I finally convinced her to pass me the phone, which she did through the crack provided by the chain lock on the door. I called Francois, but he didn't answer. Even though he knew I was out in the storm. I handed the phone back to the lady on the other side of the door and she told me to leave. So I did. I didn't know what else to do.
I made it maybe another fifty feet down the road when a truck slowed and stopped beside me. The man inside was wearing a worn baseball cap and cover-alls and he opened the door and said, "Hey, you need a ride?" I climbed in. He told me he had seen me walking on his way home from work and mentioned me to his wife. When it began to storm his wife looked at him and said, "Bill? You better go get that little girl" and so he did. He carried me in his truck right up to the Nautilus Foundation front door and made me promise to never go out in weather like that again.
When I got inside, soaked and shaking, I found Francois in the kitchen listening to the radio. He told me he didn't like to answer the phone at night. He told me he knew I'd make it home alright. "You're a smart girl" he said. I bid him good night, took a hot shower, and went to bed.

17 comments:

Melissa Kaye said...

I could read your stories/memoirs all day. They are so beautiful.

SJ said...

I am loving this story :)

honeyluna said...

Man oh man. I think I might cry a few tears when you are done sharing your story.

Please would you write us at least on novel? Millions will buy it, I promise, and I will be your nurse/book-selling sister. I'm not quite sure how those two things can go together, but I will figure it out. MmmK?

Ms. Moon said...

"The puppets were made of human skin."
Top that, anyone. Go ahead and try.

I often think of the story of the guy and the truck, driving out in the storm to pick you up, take you home. I do. As I walk my path in Lloyd, I think of him and I am grateful to him for looking for and finding my baby-daughter in the storm.

Petit fleur said...

Wow. Just incredible... I totally understand about the icky sticky need thing. It's a nasty booger! You were right to go with your instincts there. He may have been a fascinating old beatnick, but smarmy is smarmy. You done good.

Human skin...? yech!

Hey, that man that gave you a ride...was he old? There is THE sweetest old man named bill that lives out here. He is real old now, donno how old he'd have been then. He has a NYish accent. Just curious.

Well, you have made my evening so much more intriguing and zany and thoughtful and adventurous.
Thank you for your mad posting.
xoxo

Petit fleur said...

ps I love Gauguin's ladies too!

And MSG should NOT be in the home, that is so wrong. Grrreat for story telling though!

Danielle said...

@ ms moon...i was about to say the same!!!

@ may..i simply cant say AGAIN that you got it...i ll just tell you that i told the other night that i wish tha my writing would have been as good as yours when i startet writing...you have it..dont let it go...close your hands around the spark..protect it from the storm..and enlight us with it...

Mwa said...

I feel like I must comment so you don't stop writing.

May said...

Melissa Kaye- Sweet Girl, selfishly I hope you continue to read my stories, even more selfishly- now go write your own! ( so i can eat them up...)

SJ- I am loving you.

Honeyluna- Sweetpea, I can see you as a nurse/book seller. Let's open a coffee shop and write and sell books and you can put bandaides on me when I fall down or clunk my head. God, I laughed so hard last night...

Mama- I often think of that man too. That night had so many lessons, in self preservation and human nature. He was an angel, and so was his wife.

Petit Fleur- The man who saved me was not that old. Too bad, it would be fun to be able to thank him. And thank you for keeping up with my "mad posting". That would be a good name for a blog. Is Harley feeling better? Love to you and your men!

Danielle- Your comments always make me blush! I think it is your talent combined with your sweetness combined with how handsome you are... Thank you.

Mwa- Thank you for that. You know the joys of peeking at your blog and seeing comments adding up! Is that why we do this? I will try to keep writing. You too.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

I love this series, May. I am so fascinated by Mr. Bucher and your life with him.

I could kill that old bitch who wouldn't let you in the house.

Love, SB.

Steph(anie) said...

I would have been pissed about what he said when you got back! And that man who gave you a ride was like an angel. Thank you for writing.

Mary said...

Rich buttery writing, like wheat toast with apple butter maybe...

Or a fresh sweet cool smoozie - you bring your readers right into the kitchen with you, and I can feel the floors under my bare feet even though you haven't yet described them!

The teapot Hershey Kisses, the thunderstorm, all right there.
I will be watching for the next instalment! This truly is the start of a book, I believe...

downtown guy said...

I will never forget you telling me about those teapots. "they were teapots? but how...?"

Mel said...

May, your story just keeps unfolding like a flower. You put the reader right there with you and make it so real, and it's already interesting as heck. Isn't life crazy sometimes? There are the most unusual and complicated people out there, and you have met a fair share. Please keep telling us about them, the stories and the writing are addicting. No one can top skin puppets, your mama is right. Ick.

You are a conduit for memories or emotions, since you make so many things pop into my head. Once when I was young and foolish I was hiking the seven miles to camp out with my boyfriend in the mountains of Wyoming, and the evening sky darkened and the lightening came up and I witnessed my first mountain storm coming right at me. I turned around, but the place I was walking away from was so much worse than that storm, I turned back around and walked toward it.
A beat up old red pick up passed me, as the rain started to fall, then turned around and came back. The man said you don't need to walking into that weather, where ya going? I didn't know him from Adam, but he looked like a good man. He gave me a ride to the next lodge and probably saved me getting hit by lightening or worse. The hell hole I was working at burned to the ground that night, and I've never forgotten the nice man who helped me through the storm. The kindness of strangers is very humbling. Interestingly, I was befriended by the most amazing, ruined old man who shared the rest of my summer with me. So I have a strong connection with so much of your story. But yours is so much better.

Keep writing please. If you run out of tales to tell, will you make some up? Thanks ever so much.

Jo said...

So good, May. And thanks to Francois, for his fascinating life.

I can't get over how talking about it, you sound like you're talking from a remove of like, 40 years, like you're a wise old lady now. Although, it is of course clear what a wise lady you are :)

Elizabeth said...

Wow. I feel so fortunate that I clicked on your blog and got to read all three installments at once. And now I can't wait for more!

Bethany said...

oh...............so glad i saved all this for when i had time to really savor and read. i just fell right in, better than any novel i've read lately.
the hershey kiss teapots!
the smoothies.
your ride home.
magic magic magic.
everyday life amid magic.
and your telling is divine.