[ToC]

 

GREED, MUSIC, VISCERA: FOUR WINDOWS

Tessa Fontaine

Parking Lot

A man stands beside a woman in a wheelchair and I'm acutely aware that I should not stare, sitting as I am with all working limbs on the rental car parking lot's bench, but I'm staring. Engines spark off and on all around. The couple is young; she has a long ponytail and he wears a cap. Their backs are turned to me but their bodies are moving together in a way I've never seen two distinct bodies move. Cars accelerate around corners and reverse from their cramped spots in tremendous hurries. He bends down, head nearing the chrome and vinyl armrests as she reaches up to connect her hands behind his neck at the same moment, same velocity, like they are both moving down the same small stream. He bends, she scoops his neck, he scoots his arms under her hips and butt as she pulls her weight up and they both rise until he is straight and holding her, one arm under her bent knees, the other under her armpit and arm. A horn blares in the next row. People are slamming doors and trunks. There is no wavering, no uncertainty, just the steps, three or four, from the wheelchair to the open car door and then another bend and fluid sweep, his hip nearly against the car as he releases her body onto the seat while her arms that were around his neck reach back, around and up to the handle on the roof's interior to help guide her body inside. She's seated. He pulls away. All the little motions add to something more. There aren't long moments where they hold one another's eyes or kiss or touch outside of necessity. In fact, they don't even speak.

 

Ho Chi Minh

He's in a rectangular crystal case, eyes closed, chest, head and arms exposed, tucked in his coffin like some strange tale I've come to stare at. Wispy grey beard hairs. Long fingernails. I keep thinking over and over the fingernails, immaculate, long and rounded, calcium spots rubbed away and all ten of them on spread fingers resting atop the blood-red blanket. I can't stop thinking about this while I'm ushered through the Mausoleum, fingernails like they are the reason for reverence, like their original existence as peripherally alive subverts their need to be now dead. I look and look and wish he were naked. Nobody to say this is what the penis and balls of an old man look like after death, this is where the dead sperm sleep, this is their angle of repose. Just the looking.

 

The Pianist

The pianist is hammering notes with his fingers. Just behind him, out the window, the climbing arms of bougainvillea with their pink dragon faces and thorns. The leaves and flowers and thorns and stems and roots together make the bougainvillea, bougainvillea. It's evening, and the pianist is hacking each of the individual white bodies and black bodies together in different arrangements to make the larger body of music. There are ten or twelve of us watching him in this department store, Santa Barbara, and though he doesn't ever look over, the more people who stop and watch, the fiercer he bangs.

 

Surgery

Knives to the gut. The people who have to look at you are doctors, nurses, medical students, social workers; the people who choose to look are visiting family and friends, though family and friends look and look away, making bathroom jokes about the consistency of the juice you're eventually told to drink. You get a lot of lip-downturned frowny-faces by visiting family and friends. They can't say Sorry, this blows, sorry. Instead, they come when you might be sleeping so they can look without your looking back.

 

Ho Chi Minh

He's shipped to Russia three months out of the year for maintenance. The corpse is flushed and perfect, though he died more than forty years ago. I'm sure he's about to sit up and begin speaking. I imagine his fingernails moving, scraping along his golden silk pajamas. I imagine him singing. Uncle Ho wanted to be cremated and scattered in fields, wished this explicitly and in writing, but instead was embalmed to sustain the cult of personality his government propagated all his life. The spirit of the communist party in formaldehyde. Revolution in his unmovable fingers. The Russians know how to best primp dead bodies. Thanks, Lenin. We are kept at a sustained clip by the guards, who prod us from behind with their batons. There are guards every foot or two. They do not make eye contact with visitors. After waiting in a three-quarter mile line, we snake through the mausoleum and finally enter the almost completely dark hallway, round a corner to the room with the crystal case. We walk along a path that runs parallel to the long side of his body, round a corner at his feet, and then walk back along the other side. We're inside for less than thirty seconds, a flash really, a small collection of moments that are supposed to fill me with heroism from the processing of light and shape in Uncle Ho's glass tomb like his death makes him.

 

Parking Lot

He slides his arms from under her body and steps back from the car one half-step, turns, and walks the three or four steps back to the wheelchair. Hands rip the Velcro pad from Velcro chair sling, reach down to the chrome frame and shake, press, until the chair folds in on itself. He lifts the frame into the air with both arms, then uses a moment of centrifugal force to slide one arm below to grab the base near the wheels, the chair balanced in his arms like some ripe fruit, and then one two steps to the back of the car, where he lays the chair in the trunk.

 

Ho Chi Minh

A few other men also embalmed against their wishes, also on display in their home countries, also encased in glass:
                    Mao Zedong
                    Vladimir Lenin
                    Kim Il-Sung
As in, because, consequently, alongside, heretofore: preserving the single body will inspire the masses, a part of the whole is more than the whole itself, the looking is enough, is more, is the answer to the inadequacy of each self, alone.

 

The Pianist

The pianist is building each of the individual white bodies and black bodies into a cohesive movement. All around him, people watch. He's sipping milk between creations, reaching one hand over to the large octagonal glass and taking inside the thick liquid, he likes it whole, not even 2%, so he can taste the entire roundness of the milk in his mouth and feel the coating on his teeth and tongue, the film of pus that comes from the nipple and washes into the milk, the mouth full of the stuff exactly as it came from the world and into his cup. The pianist sips the milk, is made of milk, is made of guts, strokes and bangs the keys and watches his music boy grow.

 

Surgery

Much later, beer funnels and hats with beer tubes and beer bongs and beer friends and strobe lights on a sea of beer and remaking the body of beer and reimagining blood as beer and filling yourself up with beer so that all is fizz and barrel-aged like an amateur magic trick like pop rocks and coke in a teacup like Alka Seltzer in a seagull stomach. You say look at me look at me.

 

Parking Lot

Right exactly now, I want to have a body that does not work as my body works so that another person will have to know how to move me. Please, lift and scoop me, look—there is work to be done. I'll have no bones, I'll give myself over entirely to my scooper, I'll bind someone to me by the way rehearsed movements will never leave his body. Such a greedy imagination. But here, they are swimming together, they are being born beautifully. Look at them. The sliding and pulling and holding like perfect twins, like the sort of ordinary beauty that can completely change a day, the focused insanity of regular beauty that, I'll just say it, destroys me.

                                                      

 

 


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I once climbed to the top of a strangler fig from the inside. This piece used to have another section in it about strangler figs. As seeds, they germinate in folds and pockets of other trees, then grow their roots down and branches up simultaneously, around their parent tree, and eventually strangle the interior tree to death so it rots and falls away, leaving only a cylindrical, hollow spiderweb-like tree that you can climb from the inside. I took the strangler fig out of this piece, but it's a good Wikipedia read. Also, here's a [link] from the BBC: WHO/WHAT/WHEN/WHERE/WHY with regards to embalming former leaders.