The Way We Live
Ellen Fagg, editor

Chapter 4
Some Body Parts Remember a War
Nicole Stansbury 

[p.63]A woman with teeth, with teeth, with hair. A stage singer and when she sang her legs rolled like water like she had no kneecaps plus she wore a shiny blue man’s silk suit and underneath it, without kneecaps, those crazy hoppin’ rollin’ legs drove you wild with happiness. And all around you were girls who loved her just the same as you; who threw roses onstage and blew kisses and held their chests like their hearts would bust right out. Like they were at a Beatles concert maybe. But the woman just sang and sang and sang. She sang: When it’s sugar cane time, around about noon, I’ll be walkin’ with my Sugar, ‘neath that old sugar moon. And how when she sang she’d be walkin’ with her Sugar, her lips slid off her teeth, she smiled like she was thinking of somebody, and [p.64]you and everybody in the audience could see it. Try to imagine them, the stage singer with dark hair glistening and high and spiky on her head and some woman, blonde, wearing a bright plastic red lei. Walking. Holding hands. Kissing. Her knees rolled! She galloped across the stage, still singing, and then slid right onto her side like someone coming into home! She was still singing lying there flat on her back and who knows what might’ve occurred to her looking up into those hot humongous white lights. Well and the crowd went wild. And the singer sat up, combed her hair flat with her fingers, hit a long low note a most amazing long low note; sat propped on her side and saw a child sleeping in the audience. So the singer sat up and walked to the edge of the stage and said to the dad of the little girl: did we lose her? And the little girl who’d fallen asleep with arms and hair hanging back now looked like a corpse against her dad’s chest, even amongst the screaming loving fans who threw so many piles of roses, swaddled in cellophane, enormous and crackling. The singer had to step around them the way you step around doo dahs on a miniature golf course.

 

What you do is go to Lake Tahoe where she has her next concert and you’re wearing red tights, the reddest tights of all, with pale green cowboy boots which don’t match but who cares since this, this giving over and giving in to her, is surely the purest joy you’ve ever known. Walkin’ in those boots makes your hips swing! Find the casino she’s staying in. Write to your friends, [p.65]say: I’d never heard such a thing! as the way the notes came out of her mouth. As the way her mouth moved around in her face like she was eating canaries and angels all at the same time. Oh, my. Your brother tells you on the phone she is terrible-looking, why doesn’t she at least wear some earrings. Think of all the self-mutilations you’ve seen, in magazines and real life: your own earlobes, a woman in a biker magazine who’d pierced her genitals. The woman wore a silver hoop and a chain which was held by a hand at the edge of the photograph.  She was smiling, looking proud.

Get off the phone and wait in the lobby, hoping to get a glimpse. The bellhop has fallen in love with you he has no idea. He admires your tights. He admires your red nails. He knows things about the singer, like that she’s on the sixteenth floor and a very friendly person, a very genuine person he says, though he has never seen her sing and howl and slide, never seen the roll and sweep of this same singer’s legs. He has never noticed maybe such straight white teeth and cheekbones which give her appearance an Aleutian cast, that’s what you think, or even sort of a fetal cast. What you mean is her features are smooth and low-lying, like she wasn’t quite through growing into her face before she got born. Try to explain this to the bellhop. He says, fetal? He touches one of your red fingernails, finally gets around to snapping the red nylon bunched over one kneecap after you stood up [p.66]waiting on the couch in the lobby three hours, hoping for a glimpse. 

On the street you have never felt so good so beautiful so madly in love and it makes you strut, the skies in Lake Tahoe are chlorine blue and a man sees you on the street. He’s tromping towards you on the sidewalk, his boots sinking in snowdrifts and when you come even the man says, Do you work for the casino? he says, How much?  The way you’d been smiling so big! The way you’d worn red tights just for the singer! Give him the bird. But later change into sedate pantyhose. 

Send a letter up to the singer’s room the morning of her second and last appearance in beautiful Lake Tahoe. Invite her to breakfast! At Denny’s, tell the waitress: Two. The singer never shows up. Her legs roll and roll. Feel it in the place where you think your womb must be, though it’s hard to know for sure. 

Wait again in the lobby. Then here comes the singer:  watch how she holds the heavy glass door for a blonde-haired woman carrying a huge plant. The singer, trying not to be noticed, makes a beeline for a red velvet sash beyond which is the auditorium. Your legs huff and puff getting to her though the trick is not to scare her off by seeming like a loony tunes fruitcake who could whip out a pistol any second. It happens to lots of celebrities and you’re pretty sure she worries about it since why wouldn’t she? But oh. But oh. Because now she’s trapped behind the red sash, the auditorium door is locked so [p.67]she’s going to be looking at you any second. When she turns to say What in a tired voice, she’s had it with adoring fans, remember lines from the Waste Land, remember: I could not speak, I was neither living nor dead and I knew nothing. Nothing. Remember, looking into the heart of light, the silence. Then the singer gets impatient, she says, What! This is when you realize she doesn’t love you, can you believe it? Though since you first heard her songs it was like having a tiny invisible giraffe friend that hung out in your pocket who you were always trying to think up jokes for. See with shame that you’re keeping her friend with the plant from even being able to escape to the elevators. Oh goodness the embarrassment and grief. Nothing can come out of your mouth. You can’t even say I’m sorry. 

One year later World War III happens. Rock-n-roll with the singer in secret love and privacy in your living room all the months in between. Catch an interview between the singer and Connie Chung where Connie wears earrings and tells the singer she dresses like a man. Catch the footage of missiles sailing through black skies into Iraq. On television no one will say how many people are dead instead they say our objectives have been satisfactorily achieved. She is a singer and has nothing in common with war; but somehow both things, the memory of her mouth and now the bodies flying, get you in the same way. Because anymore you can’t tell where your heart is or your brain or even your own bowels. At [p.68]some point, maybe that day in the casino or maybe these days watching Dan Rather’s mouth, all the parts seem to have come loose and floated away from their moorings. At some point all the organs and bones remembered something and without asking, switched places. You could wake up tomorrow and find a kidney on your tongue. Find a kneecap scooting along your spine, trying for home. Catch the footage of more missiles making humongous white holes in a daytime sky. Catch the corpses. Think: lost, lost, we’ve lost her, all.