|Jan/Feb 2013 Spotlight|
Pablo guides the door to his building back behind him so it won't bang closed and signal to Miss Pamela that someone's around in the early afternoon but the click of the latch's tongue resounds so loud in the lobby, forget it, if she's home, with her supernatural hearing.
He turns to look at Miss Pamela's apartment, expecting the worst, but it's just her green door, no one there. She must be out at crafts class.
Miss Pamela's forest green apartment door is decorated with little heart pillows she sews and stuffs herself, like every day should be Valentine's Day when people get to announce their romantic feelings to the world. She fills the pillows with dried herbs and attaches silver and gold Christmas bells to the outsides. Every time her door opens or closes, you hear a happy jingling and get an refreshing whiff of the pine woods, uplifting to the spirit, like you could be a blind man and feel all right about your blindness, at least on the first floor. Somebody on two is always cooking meat too long, or meat soup. When Pablo's tired after work, it makes him more tired climbing past two in that meat-fat-thickened air. He lives on three, the top floor.
Miss Pamela's mission in life is to beautify her portion of the world. Everyone else's door is battleship gray but she couldn't stand it. Miss Pamela also likes to wear colorful, plush, velour bathrobes and dye her hair shades of red that don't occur in nature and look much realer after a few washings. In the Spring, she puts on overalls and cloth gloves and plants flowers around the skinny sidewalk trees out front and waters and mulches them and cleans out the trash and “dog do”, talking to anyone who comes by about what she's doing and what a fine day she has to do it. Everyone calls her Miss Pamela, as if she was never married. She insists on it.
Last Spring, she threw down wildflower seeds which grew like crazy in the sidewalk tree dirt but Wanda, the other tenant on the first floor, complained to the Super about the unruliness of the flowers just like she complained about the smell of the herbs, the painted door and the religious nature of the Creche Miss Pamela put out at Christmas. Miss Pamela lost on the Crèche for fire safety reasons not religious ones but the Super ruled in favor of the wildflowers, the herbs and of letting her keep the door green until all apartment doors were painted again. Because of these and many other issues, Wanda has been giving nice Miss Pamela the silent treatment for years.
Pablo pictures Miss Pamela standing in a robe among all the things she makes at crafts, pots and more pots, cups and more cups, heart pillows and heart lamps, heart afghans and heart bracelets, like a person in a dream. He thinks she should have cats to keep her company but she doesn't. Years ago, Miss Pamela's husband died and even now she doesn't go to work and seems to have no interest at all in dating or anything else except making all kinds of crafts things, beautifying and keeping tabs on her vicinity.
Probably she's standing there with her eyeball at the peephole, if she's home.
One time two weeks ago, Pablo can't figure how unless she heard him coughing down the airshaft their kitchen windows both look out on, Miss Pamela knew he was home sick with the flu and came up carrying a tray with a plate of fresh baked cookies along with herb tea in a teapot she just fired at crafts. She told him to get back into bed and she would take care of everything. He had put his robe on to answer the door and she was in one of her robes, a royal purple one, showing a lot of freckled, powdered cleavage. Instead of serving him tea, Miss Pamela opened her robe and like fainted on him in the bed but it was more like their robes did it, Pablo thought later on. Not two people wearing robes. Two robes wearing people.
He closed his eyes and did his best making love under difficult circumstances.
After it was over, Miss Pamela started describing the suppers she was going to cook him and he's been avoiding her ever since. Maybe because of his height, lonely women of a certain age find Pablo adorable, accommodating and easy to be frank with about anything. Just like with the robes, it doesn't seem like these women are their ages but more like their ages have these women hanging from them and you can pluck them or, as in Miss Pamela's case, they drop on you like ripe fruit to the ground. Pablo is always a gentleman who would never disappoint such a nice woman. It's not that he doesn't appreciate the gift of a woman's body just not with the watchdog and beautifier of the building.
While Pablo did his best with her ample flesh, Miss Pamela lay in a dream of hearts saying she wouldn't fight him and he could go ahead and have his way with her when he was already having his way with her. His fever made him feel slippery and weak and not all there like the water pressure on the third floor. Once in a while she would say her dead husband's name, Harvey, the first time she ever mentioned the man and Pablo would leave that one alone. Underneath the smell of Miss Pamela's cleavage powder was a sweet odor of peaches and cream, her skin. There was plenty of area to cover on her substantial body with its large elusive breasts and when he finally got up on top of its high roundness he felt like a kid first time on a horse.
Ever since the robes did their thing, if he came home for lunch, Pablo would call Miss Pamela's number, to see if she was out at crafts and he could practice drums. He didn't want her coming upstairs again in a robe. One time she answered the phone and Pablo, too flustered to not say anything, asked if Mary was there and Miss Pamela very sweetly said that she was Mary and what could she do for him.
Halfway up to the first landing, Pablo hears the herb bells jingling, turns and sees their maker filling her open doorway in a robe.
Miss Pamela's always smiling at him sad-like, as if they both know the same secret and maybe it's sad but it's nice to know it together. Her smile seems to drain the light out of her wet, pale blue eyes. With her maroon hair and maroon lips, making herself into a weird work of art, Miss Pamela resembles an alien, Pablo thinks, who grew up on a different planet under a different colored sun like Superman did. On her planet, people would have purple skin and would nourish each other through their eyes like plants use sunlight to make food. Their visual images would be life-sustaining and delicious, colors for protein, lines for vitamins, like. When they got older, their skin would grow thorns and they would slowly die from going blind and not being able to eat images anymore. Pablo's mind is always coming up with stray, crazy thoughts like this that he never tells anyone. Just for his own amusement, like the one about the robes.
Oh, Pablo. Hello, Stranger.
Now, by those words, it's all out there and you know how that goes. Pablo's a perfect gentleman though. When he was a young boy, Little Grandmother taught him how to be polite, respectful and pleasing to women at practice wedding parties in Spanish; Pablo, the groom, gallant, charming and protective, Little Grandmother the bride, dignified, surrendering and slyly flirtatious.
Hello, Miss Pamela, how are you?
She has that same robe on. Or, uh oh, it's wearing her again.
Today's my birthday.
Well, it's too much, after what happened between them, making love and two weeks of avoiding her and now she says it's her birthday though it could be a lie. Hearts will say anything. Pablo goes back down the steps, a slave to all the world.
Happy birthday, Miss Pamela.
He takes Miss Pamela's hand, kisses the back of it and wonders what else could possibly happen to him today and if he should move out real soon, before his lease is up.
I'm glad you have the manners not to ask a lady how old she is.
It doesn't matter how old a person is. Their age doesn't really matter. It's their spirit that matters.
What a lovely thought, Pablo. I'm forty five today.
Another lie, sure.
No way. You don't look a day over forty.
You're too kind.
Any special plans for your birthday?
No. I was just going to see what came along.
That's three lies, sure. She sprung a trap.
Pablo wishes he could lie to people like they lie to him, not little white ones to spare their feelings, selfish ones to get things or out of things. The times he tries it he feels the lies dancing like ants on his face. Pablo wishes he could hide behind a door sometime full of plans then spring out and pretend it was an accident, with calculation like that.
Miss Pamela is so nice there is no getting around her. The purple robe is there again, alive, filling with her roundness and peachy, creamy heat. His eyes come up to her shoulder so he can look down her cleavage exactly. He guesses he'll just dive into that shadowy, powdery crevice, for a birthday present though he only half believes it's her birthday. And then give notice to the Super.
One time can be ignorance but twice is just pure stupidity after you know how foolish it is, and your own fault. This situation calls for frogs but where are frogs when you really need them? Maybe he should fake frogs.
Would you like to come in?
Well, Pablo thinks, there's in and there's in
For some birthday cake?
Well, he thinks, there's cake and there's cake.
Now that you mention it, great, sure, yeah, after I get out of these clothes. I was caught in that downpour today, you know, and got all soaked.
You poor thing. I'll warm you up.
Maybe it's the frogs, maybe the crazy day he's had, maybe the scooty, kissing soccer girl, maybe Miss Pamela's lies in the lobby, but a lying plan pops into Pablo's truth-telling mind.
I've been meaning to tell you, Miss Pamela, the reason I've been out so much and haven't stopped by to see you is, well, I kind of, you know, have a steady girlfriend now.
Is that her? asks Miss Pamela, looking over his shoulder at the lobby door.
The soccer girl is there behind the door glass waving at him, wrapped in the red sleeping bag from the golf course fence. He can't believe she followed him home, picking him out like a crazy person for reasons no one understands or like a dog for reasons everyone understands.
But is this good luck or bad? There between a rock and a hard place, he has no idea what to do because he was already at the hard place, Miss Pamela, with a lie in full motion, when the girl rock sneaked up on him to ruin his plan. Now what? He looks at the hard place with her hearts and needs, standing guard in his building with a closet full of robes and a fridge full of lonely suppers. He looks at the rock, waving her little hand at him like someone coming in on a ship, Hello, hello, did you miss me terrible?, and then smooching the door glass, the crazy nut. Maybe she kisses everything in her path.
Yeah, she's fast, I mean, early.
Well, don't just stand there, Pablo. Let her in and you can introduce us.
Pablo, walking to the door, suddenly remembers that fat cop running toward them before and sure hopes the girl shook the guy.
When he pulls the heavy door open, the girl leaps forward into the lobby like a flea on her wiry legs and her springy curls flop as one curl. Her sparkling dark eyes say she doesn't believe the luck of actually getting inside. She is holding a red sleeping bag like a cape around her shoulders, the one Pablo saw spread out along the golf course fence that made him think of the dead guy he found years back. Things like that sleeping bag make Pablo feel sad and lonely. When he first saw it, he thought maybe there was a person who would come back there at night as if it was his home and that there would be old magazines, a flashlight and a radio buried in the leaves next to his bed, things important to him but not anything anyone else would find worth taking. The girl did though, take his sleeping bag, just up and took his most important possession. Maybe she darts from thing to thing without thinking like the world is made up of flying soccer balls to chase after and score with. And it is sort of, he thinks, you know, atoms.
Hola, Sweetheart, he says to the girl and takes her hand in his hand. There's someone I want you to meet. Okay?
Her squeezes her hand to let her know things and she squeezes back with her own things.
Sure thing, Baby, the girl says like they are tight. I got here as fast as I could.
What's with the sleeping bag?
I was cold, Baby.
Uh oh, he doesn't even know her name.
Miss Pamela, this is my girlfriend Dakota.
He always liked that. Dakota. For the sound. That K and that T. Cool to say.
North and South, says the girl, catching right on.
You poor cold thing, Miss Pamela says. Why don't you come in my apartment for a slice of my birthday cake and a nice cup of hot tea to warm you right up?
Thanks a lot. I'd love to, Miss Pamela.
That's definitely not the right answer. He squeezes the girl's lively, little hand.
Ow, Baby. What?
I have all kinds of herb teas and so many beautiful cups that no one's ever used, not once, not even me. But a birthday is a best day, don't you think, to use a cup for the first time?
Yes. Happy Birthday to you, Miss Pamela.
I'm forty five.
Thanks Miss Pamela but we gotta go now, Pablo says. Maybe later. Later, for sure. But now we better change out of these clothes, don't you think, Sweetheart?
I would really, really like some tea and birthday cake, Baby, to celebrate the nice lady's birthday.
She's a great actress, this girl. And big trouble.
Yes, but I can't, you know, on account of I have to go back to work soon, remember?
That's okay. You go. It could be like a girl thing with girl talk of no interest to you. I'd love to have a cup of sweet herb tea in a brand new cup. You go to work, Baby, the girl says. She leans up and kisses him on his cheek. And I'll see you later.
The door closes. The bells jingle with the smell of herbs. Pablo just stands there as the lobby goes strange and quiet, the girl's kiss drying on him in the cool lobby air.
Frogs? he says, half questioning them, half calling the pests as if to see how much life has in store for him this day. No frogs. Maybe it's like in the Bible when God stopped showing himself to people preferring to be the force behind things from then on. Everything seemed to be leading to God but then, just when you'd expect him to show up, there was no God. You thought someone had your back but really your were drowning on your own out there.
Now he has two things to deal with, the ever sad-smiling Miss Pamela, nice outside, hungry inside, and her closet full of robes, and the escaped, smooching soccer girl, latching onto him. He wishes it wasn't his nature to be always feeling sorry for people.
He starts up to three and it takes the whole slow climb to his door for him to figure out how much trouble he could get into because of Miss Pamela and the escaped school girl talking down there, what with their kiss and her truancy, like kidnapping. He takes the stairs two at a time and ring's Miss Pamela's doorbell.
He's never been inside before. No one has, he doesn't think, except the Super. Miss Pamela's apartment place is like a doll's house, a world of illusion, full of thousands of little handmade items, so it seems you must also become a doll if you want to enter. That means your behavior is regulated by the doll mistress and the strength of her belief in the rules. Watching over you, pressing close to you and speaking in husky hushed tones of the house's proper ways and means.
Miss Pamela opens the door and smiles at him like she knew he would be back all along.
Standing among the phases of the moon depicted in sequence on her hall rug, Pablo takes his shoes off, with Miss Pamela watching over him, then lines them up against the wall next to the soccer girl's muddy sneaks. Musk incense is burning and under that the smell of peaches and skin again, the ripening heat he remembers from the attack of the robe. He and Miss Pamela are in the small foyer lit dimly by candles casting a yellow-orange glow that makes the red sleeping bag look like freshly killed, skinned, wet meat hanging from the coat stand. When Pablo turns, he sees a portrait of her late husband Harvey filling the wall, looking at no one in particular, sort of staring off like someone coming up with a new, bright idea, thinking hard. He is standing with a book open in one hand and his other hand reaching up as if he is about to explain his new idea to a classroom of students. Behind his glasses, Harvey has eyes that look both out and in at the same time. You can tell he's extremely smart. He seems solid and sure of himself, a classical man, whatever that means. Miss Pamela is silently watching Pablo in the small foyer as he takes in the painting to make sure he falls under Harvey's spell same as she did years back.
A very classical man, says Pablo. But a modern man too.
Harvey could be at home anywhere in the world because he knew who he was and his comfort in himself encouraged other people to be who they are, true to who they are. He will always be the love of my life. There will never be another man for me.
He's very handsome, Miss Pamela. I mean, was very handsome. Sorry.
Yes, he was. My Prince. I never had to kiss one frog my whole life.
Miss Pamela turns to the nearby bureau, gives the pump on a bottle a few quick hits, squirting some white lotion into her hand. There's that smell of peaches and cream again. She takes Pablo's hands in hers and starts rubbing the lotion with long slow strokes into the skin of his fingers and palm, like she wants to press her whole life into his flesh. It feels good, squeezing out aches Pablo didn't know he had, but also makes him nervous in the little space with close boundaries and no boundaries, and the robe pulling his hands into her chest as if, after the first time, a body the robe has captured must perform certain acts forever. That's how it is in the country of the robes so you don't want to get kidnapped and enslaved there.
A kettle starts to whistle from the kitchen.
Don't be nervous, Pablo.
Did you do rub Dakota hands too?
She is very nice. And her name isn't Dakota.
You know? Of course, you know.
We like making up names for each other.
And she is only thirteen at the most.
Fifteen. She's just small like I am.
Stroking. Stroking so slow. As if his fingers are much longer than they are. She has unusually strong hands from throwing pots. Pablo feels each segment of bone being traced by the slow, urgent, undulating Miss Pamela loneliness as if the waves from the ship carrying Harvey away are finally coming to shore.
I just want to tell you this in front of Harvey, she whispers, urgent. I never thought I'd let another man touch me again.
But why with me?
You are the sweetest person, I know. So respectful and polite. Like an angel. And we have Harvey's permission.
We can't anymore, Miss Pamela.
Loyalty is an admirable thing. But you know you shouldn't be messing around with a truant Catholic schoolgirl, Pablo. I'm only saying this for your own good. It's against the law, thirteen or fifteen, she's still under age, and you could get into a whole lot of trouble for it. Harvey and I can't let you do that anymore.
What do you mean?
I mean, for your own good, Pablo.
Thanks. You're right, Miss Pamela. It's a bad thing to do I know and I'll tell her to go back to school and forget about me.
Good boy and afterwards you can come see me for some cake.
With arms strong from throwing pots, Miss Pamela yanks him to her plump body. She buries her face in his neck then goes all soft. Pablo braces his legs to hold both of them up, his arms around her wide wide back. Her chest heaves. Her boobs flood down his chest and her belly. Pablo's neck is getting wet. A silent crying, the kind you do into a pillow when someone's sleeping next to you and you don't want to wake them. Underneath the perfume and powder and peaches, he smells her flesh, something sweet just beginning to turn. She is in the far away land, doing this for Harvey, not where Pablo is at all. He looks up at the painting. Harvey's still teaching class. Definitely moving out.