Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fiction: Approximating Desired Fervency {a northern New Mexico short story, serialized}

Approximating Desired Fervency
{Part 1. Read Part 2, posted August 25, 2010, by clicking HERE.}

When Estie visited her cousin Dave in Santa Fe where he was studying professional massage, they talked some about their parents, the usual, how her father hooked up a speaker in the bathroom so he could bathe to arias from Aida. How Dave’s father wrote letters to the L.A. Times’ editor evangelizing that employment of logic could solve the city’s multiple problems. The cousins also talked about Dave’s upcoming career as a masseuse and Estie’s promotion at the data processing plant, as she called it, really, the tech division of a small corp. Before Santa Fe, Dave chopped vegetables in a restaurant in West Hollywood, and, as always, read in his spare time. His move surprised Estie, but didn’t astound her; Dave was a person of parts, she thought. The day Estie was promoted project director of her unit, she phoned Dave, a normal course of events. “Visit, visit,” Dave pleaded, writing ‘Grocery List for Estie’s Imminent Arrival’ on the back of a yoga class schedule. “It’s just a few hours by plane—we’ll celebrate.”

Estie doodled a giant flame and encased it in a heavy square. She figured this meant she had inner aspirations in storage. After the two hung up, she scratched arrows pointing the way out. But she was guessing.

In Santa Fe, Estie shared Dave’s room and bath in the back of a thick adobe house. Dave was in the final phases of Swedish massage exams before he went on to psychic and acupoint; he was busy. He gave her his car keys, bid her explore and report nightly. She set out to enjoy the spare rapture of the high desert.

The first day she drove north. The aspens with their precise leaves, green, flanked the ski basin. Light breezes swept through trees whose leaves snapped and shimmered with delicacy. Near Abiquiu she saw long, steady stripes of mesa and sky. She rode the highway to Taos, skirting the plaza and heading for the pueblo and surrounding country. As she drove, Estie discovered she had a set of gut muscles that started and fluttered at the sight of full skies and burnt earth.

That evening Dave suggested her next day’s destination. “Why don’t you try the back road, Estie?” It was nice to see him again, Estie thought, tall, skinny, pale, blonde Dave with his angular face always looking apologetic, like he owed you money, but couldn’t repay it just yet. Her hair was black. Dave complained that Estie kept it cut like a monk’s cowl, but readily admitted her prominent nose gave her face great character.

Dave and Estie were sipping sangria while lying on the same jumble of blankets and quilts of Dave’s boyhood, teenage, college and working life. Dave didn’t have a couch and his futon provided the abode’s only means of lateral comfort. For Estie, Dave layered two camping mats on the floor and on top of those spread flowered sheets and the magenta comforter their great aunt Jeanette crocheted.

“The back road going north.” Dave pointed to the Auto Club Triptik unfolded on top of two pillows. “You’ll see some amazing churches.”

“Churches?” Was he breaking with family tradition again? she wondered.

“They’re strong. And you’ll get a feel for the penitentes.”

“Local rock band?”

“The old Spanish in the back hills. With secret rites. They’re Catholic and then some.”

“Since when are you Catholic?”

“They are. It’s part of the land, Estie. Try the back road.” Dave squiggled a snaky line on the pitcher. “It’s not about religion, it’s about New Mexico, it’s about not being in L.A.”

She’d missed her instructive cousin since his move. “Think you’ll stay in Santa Fe?” She plucked an orange slice from the pitcher and picked out two seeds. Dave watched her for a while, studied her, actually, like Estie was a painting of herself rather than herself in flesh.

“It’s special and people who live here know it. Drive around more, you’ll see.” He tapped her prominent nose. “Maybe you’ll move here.”

“And do what?” She was struck by Dave talking religion. What would his father think? Why didn’t she have a religion? she wondered.

Using words only, Dave and Estie tucked each other in, a feat not entirely possible yet always recommended when the two parties complain they’re pooped; Dave turned out the light. Estie was restless and perked up when Dave started speaking.

“Dostoyevsky was a compulsive gambler, did you know that Estie?”

Estie was accustomed to Dave’s sundry ramblings. She flashed on a mental image of a Russian with a long gray beard, in a tunic, playing the ponies, shouting, “Come on, Little Trotsky, come on.”

“His publisher Stellovsky was holding him to a contract that stipulated Fyodor had to produce a new novel or else the publisher would own everything Dostoyevsky wrote for the next nine years and not have to pay the great writer one penny.”

She berated all publishers for sucking blood.

“Meanwhile Fyodor lost at the roulette wheel and also lost his mistress Polina Suslova to a South American. Salvador—”

“Dali?” Sometimes, in truth, Estie had just a little trouble with lectures.

“Or El Salvador?” Then, “Estie.” Then silence, then, “You’ve made me forget.” Before Estie could apologize, he resumed. “Anyway, Dostoyevsky hired a stenographer to take dictation of his next work and fell in love with her.”

“Anna Dostoyevsky.”

Estie saw the outline of Dave’s form bolt upright. “Are you guessing?”

Not by a long shot. “Mom read her autobiography for her Women Behind the Men class. There was a picture of her on the cover. She looked like Aunt Becca. Russian, plump. They’ve got cold winters there.”

“I always think I have something to tell you and you always end up telling me something.” Dave plopped back down, muttering, not mad, pleased to be muttering. Next thing Estie knew, he was snoring. She was awake for hours, wondering if Anna Dostoyevsky would want to be a computer programmer, or even married to a computer programmer.

The next morning Estie drove north past New Mexico churches, each a solid sweep of adobe. There was no one in the dry countryside once she was out of the small towns. She saw an occasional cross, as free and random as sagebrush in the earth. So natural were the crosses planted in the New Mexico soil, by the penitentes, she assumed, she likened individual variance to nature—as species of wildflowers may differ. But they weren’t wildflowers, they were crosses.

Sighting one solitary cross which looked like it had sprung from the high desert, like its presence was part of some higher plan, she parked her car on the dirt shoulder and walked in. The sky was blue—the clouds were white—the earth was red. Estie had never before seen so clearly the drama of a land and had difficulty keeping her body whole as she tugged at piñon to maintain a stride. A bird dipped into the horizon. Its flight was clear and directed and the already perfect elements had to make room. She was mesmerized by the bird’s sweepings and became dizzy, letting go of the sticky branch. The cross was near. She strove for it and missed sight of a gully before her. She slipped and fell. The fall was short, the bruises surface, but the jolt was sudden and shook a moment’s worth of life out of her. Shaken out of her senses, she came to her senses.

“Dave, what do you think?” Estie laughed as Dave surveyed her skewed presence and heard of her venture. “The cross, the fall. I feel like an English major—Let’s see how many symbols we can find in this story, class.” She’d spread out her bedding and was sitting on top, her back against an adobe wall.

Dave nodded as her day’s drama was sifted through her enthusiasm. “Pretty weird.” He sniffed at a plastic container he’d pulled from his fridge and smiled. “Maybe your spill is a reflection on your soul not being ready. How can anyone who lives in L.A. ready their soul?”

“Ready it for what?” . . .

{Story is continued in the next posting, 8/25/10. CLICK HERE.}

"Approximating Desired Fervency" by Sarah Sarai was published in South Dakota Review in 2003.

No comments:

Post a Comment