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.
Rugs hold onto dirt and catch your high heels. I have no time for rugs, let's roll them on up. Let's throw some sawdust on the floor. Let's put some music on. Let's wake the children, rouse the neighbors, and see who has the rhythm in 'em. It's time to dance.