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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which We View Scenes From The Drama Of Her Life In College


Crumb Trails


Undergraduate education is the territory of inaugural munchies, an exercise in the unhealthy ethos of quick meals, be they Apollonian Ramen, Dionysiac Donettes or otherwise. It wasn't until after graduation that I instigated my snack food experimentation. One night, having grown weary of San Diego psych rock and spoken word, Galen and I tripped across El Cajon Boulevard to 7-11, and inexplicably became owners of "Takis," munch fare of similar breed as: Flamin' Hot Cheetos, Tapatio Doritos, Flamas Doritos, and other variations on a theme of red 40 and corn.

How deliciously they burned the tongue and gums, these indulgences, insipid in gout yet impossible to relinquish! Their stains on the digits and the lips surprised and alarmed me, and I stuck out my tongue in the bathroom mirror that following morning, ears no longer ringing with psychedelic music but still in possession of a stain to be reckoned with. No matter how the night's memories dwindled, the crimson crumbs held steadfast to the epidermis, a landmark of time that has passed.

These Dorito fingers – can we call them Doringers? – hold you to your experiences indiscriminately, tenacious to the last scrub of the washcloth.

Though unrelated temporally they aren't dissimilar, these Doringers, from memories of my college career: a swath of life I find difficult to remember except as punctuated by landmarks and artifacts of growth and fear, these snippets all ultimately lined up on the shelf of remembrances, or – like the small orange New Testaments that those old men (who were they, anyway?) handed out after class in the Holmes Junior High School parking lot – buried in the strata of your childhood bedside table, waiting for you to find meaning within their constancy or else to discard them, wondering, "Why did I ever keep this?"

Famous for sweet onions, a feisty wine tourism industry, and a foundry frequented by Pop Artists and Carhardt-clad metalworkers, Walla Walla sits in the Columbia River Valley and is as halcyon and mysterious as Twin Peaks, population 51,201. Instead of Norma's Diner we had Clarette's and Tommy's Dutch Lunch. I only spent three years there, a paltry sum for a life nearly eight times that length. Of course, more prodigious things have seen completion in similar time (the First World War in four, Beethoven's 9th in two).

There it went, though – a logical progression, an unquestioned ramification for life in educated middle-classdom, where, in the sixth grade, Ms. Cook told us that we had better get to work on our Egyptian dioramas because after all, "in college there is homework every day [insert quantitative gesture to demonstrate quotidian homework demands in their physical manifestation]."

I'll blame flash drives and cloud hosting for my inability to remember what work amounted to such arduous piles. Nor can I remember being particularly morose about it. In fact I cannot now remember the stress levels encountered in college, though I think they were probably less than the sum total of stress I encountered whilst applying to college.

Selective memory eludes concise recounting. I did find a Design 101 assignment on the back of which I had explained to the grader, "I was drawing this while under intense stress and conflict, and it probably reflects that state of mind. There is a theme of tension and passive versus active forces," – more like notes from a Jungian's armchair than art studio work – "I was also reading about the circulation of blood, so that could have influenced this work as well."

"Everything you know will be challenged," President Bridges told us at commencement, and I tempered his words, meant for others but not for myself, with the self-assurance of an eighteen-year-old to whom "the weight of years" was still just a petty aphorism and "sage" just a plant that smelled like marijuana when it burned. How convenient for me, I thought, that a 23-year-old boyfriend back at home and a longstanding tradition of scholarship precluded these foibles of higher education. One long-distance breakup, myriad crepuscular study scrambles, and fifteen pounds later, I'd no doubt forgotten Mr. President's words but was treated to an almost Zen-like ego raze; as if all I thought I knew was tossed into an industrial-strength dryer and desiccated until it was uncomfortably hidebound and of questionable worth.

Of course, I came to Whitman with my specialties. I could conjure Chopin's Revolutionary etude and graft roses and recite choice Cummings tidbits, but around me were folks who'd started nonprofits, taken high school classes like "The World in Pieces: Cinema, Poetry, and the Aesthetics of Fragmentation," knew European history beyond Franz Ferdinand's significance, and could enumerate certain Best New Music reviews from 2007 on.

By grace of cripplingly low confidence or fierce survivalistic competitiveness or both, I quickly lost illusions that I was "special" or "smart" or "Gifted and Talented." Surprised (as I am, frequently) by my intellectual untenability, I engaged in what a psychologist might perhaps call Maladaptive Coping. No one ever told me "this essay's horseshit" or "you're a horrible painter" but I made sure to, in Puritannical frenzies of self-revision or flagellation or both.

Also, I dozed off in Geology class, a victim of prodigious early-morning donuts and coffee – my preferred distractions. The shale and Missoula floods fascinated me, but more consistent was the affair with Halls Prentiss and Jewett, the lands of free-flowing soymilk, ladlefuls of blueberries and vegan waffle batter.

As we first embarked on what has to have been the most leisurely chapter of our relationship, Galen and I would – at that point, weaned from dormitory life and the fount of unfettered food access – sneak into those hallowed halls of all-you-can-eat populated by freshman seated in strange conglomerations, and visiting students with their attentive and resigned parents in tow. Making good on tuition dollars measured in bacon and eggs, we sat luxuriating in our bleary-eyed class-less mornings – Galen healing headaches with electric-blue Powerade and I mentally gathering the facts and figures of the man across from me with the meticulousness of a researcher – unaware of that frustrating impermanence of a relationship's inception, more delicate and weightless than the plum blossoms blown by Berkeley's February breeze.

Growing up in Davis, where the meanderings of 30,000 UC students (some of whom had little compunction about bicycling into traffic or asking a 13-year-old shopping at Tower Records whether she preferred to "spit or swallow") caused frequent consternation, I found it equally strange to be on the other side of the town-grown coin.

I never thought of college as an ivory tower, though many classes centered around critiques of Gazes, Biases, Frames, Interpretations. Once, at a themed party, someone unfortunately arrived garbed in a "Survivor" costume (read: equatorial face paint in the vein of Survivor: Africa, Survivor: South Pacific, or Survivor: Redemption Island.) Campus outcry quickly led to annual Symposia on the insidiousness of prejudice and stereotype.

Worthy discussions that excited a deep respect for Arendt and a love/hate relationship with Paul Gauguin nevertheless led me to dead ends creatively, as if anywhere I turned there were more thoughts to process, dissertations to untangle, theses to glean – where can inspiration grow when it is firmly capped by pre-existing pavements of cultural context and critical theory? The laughing bald head of Monsieur Michel F. found my work as stifled as the Victorian age, while Kandinsky's eye perceived my paintings to be dull, muddier than an out-of-tune choir.

Is our ivory tower where we hide when we are unable to face what academia distracts us from? Or is it guilt – perforating my hermitage as I sit, unsure what to put my liberal-arts-educated energies into and feeling the weight of my years, while the young vagrant outside ties his great heaving sacks of recyclables and curses quietly to himself, glancing every so often at the passing cars (perhaps with the same self-conscious embarrassment I felt when my mother and I would go scavenging for roadside walnuts or fruit) – that drives our buttressing?

If college is where ivory towers are built, mine grew privacy walls to protect me from the world's banalities and mundane atrocities: rent checks, Social Security, internet providers, mind-dulling métiers – compromises that faire passer la vie.

In childhood, I began to imbue objects with sentimental weight, that I may later conjure memory of time past. First, I cried along with the protagonist of Aliki's Feelings over spilt ice cream – less consolable than he, who would smilingly soon receive a replacement cone. Later, my mother would send me care packages filled with strange and novel offerings: basil seeds, homegrown pomegranates, cards featuring cutouts from expired bird calendars, Sees Candy tins to fete various holidays. These tins especially plucked my heartstrings after the last Scotchmallow Egg was polished off, such that I maintain a small collection of them. Artifacts of love, they prove that I'll never fully attain the minimalism I lust after.

At any rate, place, like confection canister, remains stoic and silent. In the seasonal confusion of the Bay Area climate, where Japanese maples hold their ruddy leaves till March, impervious to the white fragrance of spring's floreted buds, I find myself pining over the delineated year in Walla Walla, its seasons measured quadratically with the first snow, blushes of warmth in autumn, croci all violet and hardy through the hoarfrost in spring.

Like the blurry fondness of a vacation past, I miss my college, as if it would or could miss me back; the latter I know not to be the case because if it is anything like revisiting the hallowed halls of high school, nothing is left but flashes and sound bytes flushed through the sieve of memory. The halls repudiate their former associate with a cold stoic necessity, for the fledgling who tripped so enthusiastically from the nest may never return to roost there again.

Thus my memories of college remain, unrequited and fading slowly, willfully, in and (mostly) out of reason and consciousness, like the mind's attempt to regroup in the morning after a memorably decadent night. I had a few of these, though most anything was risque for a girl raised in a home where the liquor cabinet shared real estate with the teacups and consisted of my late grandmother's Kirschwasser for Black Forest Cake, and Amaretto for biscotti. These nights were adventures and stumbles and exhibitions of great careless exuberance; the worst repercussions were temporary dizziness or jettisoned digestibles.

College facilitated new forays into prohibited territory and I was always surprised at the intensity with which we grasped at our new freedoms, most often of the imbibed kind. For me, it was also the fashion faux pas. Proud in my calculated sloppiness, I made the nightly post-supper pilgrimage to the library from the dorms decked in fire engine red sweatpants and Birkenstock clogs.

On other nights, I would visit my friend Kyle, who was of a mysterious age and for some inexplicable reason lived in a fraternity. He and I would listen to Thom Yorke and Bartok and then Deirdre and I would visit only to raid the TKE walk-in refrigerator, a Six Flags Marine World to our paltry dorm kitchen. I flush with embarrassment to think how we must have looked, harvesting swiss cheese and beet slices from the good gentlemen's rations.

Our dorm's freshman year were an incredulous bunch: capricious boys, naked and flushed, pummeling each other with snow outside my window; the Idahoan dip connoisseur who banged on our doors at 3 a.m. hollering "hippies wake up" and who, much like Lady Gaga – and doubtless to potential girlfriends' disappointment – couldn't be tamed.

How can so paltry a sum of years yield seemingly endless cascades of fragmented memory? I am someone who finds herself overwhelmed by the cornucopia of infinite and equally-valuable experiences until I find far too much familiarity with Infinite Jest-ian moments: trying somehow to move toward both at once, finally, so that he stood splay-legged, arms wildly out as if something's been flung, splayed, entombed between the two sounds, without a thought in his head.

And so I thrust toward the faded feelings, tangible artifacts, or photographic evidence of life's moments that are gone, gone, gone. Gone is the admissions counselor with the French-sounding last name who encouraged me to apply and reminded me of a Lewis and Clark fur trader. Gone is the piano teacher with a strict kindness who called my home and in his lovely Texas cadence told me how he'd enjoyed my Haydn and Chopin and made sure my piano helped me pay for tuition. Gone is that piano playing, once a daily ritual, often disparaged as drudgery but ultimately another emphatically maudlin ache of loss. Nostalgia for college is like a nostalgia for those we once loved but no longer do; the lovely memories remain, sterile and preserved in a vacuum-sealed container with silica gel packets and a double-lock Ziploc, but can never, even with the archivist's preservative efforts, render the same fresh fragrances they once did.

Perhaps Camus was right and nothing is more absurd (comforting?) than that "divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting." College is the well-preserved ghost I brace with the ever-unraveling scraps of memory. Yet when the exercise of remembrance seems futile, or runs dry, I think of Doringers.

No longer are there classes, crunching through snow in unfashionable loungewear, teachers in pink tights, symposia on Primitivistic makeup but even the next morning, after the beer has been drank, the last flamin' hot crunch silenced, those recognizable orange stains remain – under fingernails and in the creases of one's mouth – casually hinting at times already lost to the past. When my gait is slowed and my neck goitered what will endure of college but the vestiges of three years' follies and joys and eruditions? Will the spiciest bits, however reluctantly, slowly disappear with the morning's soapy water?

Joanna Swan is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer and artist living in Oakland. She last wrote in these pages about fancies. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She blogs here and tumbls here.

"Jigsaw Falling Into Place" - Radiohead (mp3)

"My Whole World's Coming Apart" - John Maus (mp3)

"Life's Zombies" - Lil B (mp3)


In Which We Long To Put Our Arms Around Them

Access Denied


Susan B. Anthony learned to read and write before the age of five, in a time when women were often not taught to do either. Her first teacher was slow to recognize her ability, so she forced the man to teach her long division.

Her father lost his cotton mill due to hard times. The family moved to a town called Hardscrabble (this was before irony). Susan's education was prized before material things; her father Daniel's Quaker background reeked of egalitarianism. After a visit from a travelling scientist, she told her dad, "He described only the good organs, and said nothing of the bad. I should like to know the whole truth."

Financial collapse had its unintended benefits. Thousands of women went to work, and not just the poor ones. Susan's first job was as the assistant principal at a girls' boarding school in New Rochelle. It was the largest town she had ever seen. Her brother-in-law recommended that she not try to "niggerize" the school, for Susan saw nothing of either traditional race or class barriers.

For her first 15 weeks of work, she received $30.

Her new job was also a refuge. Men were attracted to Susan, and some even proposed. A part of her wanted that life, but another, more persuasive part of her was made a little nauseous by it. Susan's clothes were less expensive than they looked. Men were astonished by her intelligence; she was disgusted by their consumption of alcohol. After one lovely evening, she wrote in her diary: My fancy for attending dances is fully satiated. I certainly shall not attend another unless I can have a total abstinence man to accompany me, and not one whose highest delight is to make a fool of himself. 

In later life she said, "It always happened that the men I wanted were those I could not get, and those who wanted me I wouldn't have."

susan's attic workroom

Turning her off from the insitution of marriage permanently was the death of her cousin Margaret. The  mother of four suffered severe complications during her last pregnancy, and lay on her deathbed. Her husband spent that time complaining endlessly of a headache. "I've had one for days," Margaret told him. "Oh yes," he responded, "but I mean that I have a real headache, very painful. Yours is just a natural consequence."

Susan told her father she wished she could go west and pan for gold.

1848's Seneca Falls Convention was the brainchild of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, both women from upper class backgrounds. Elizabeth was a mother of seven. After being ejected from a London convention against slavery, the two women were forced to their own cause by the attitudes of purportedly enlightened men. Elizabeth's demand for women's suffrage at Seneca Falls shocked her even her most ardent supporter. "Thee will make us ridiculous," Mott told her.

Elizabeth in later years

Susan was drawn by Elizabeth's eloquence as well as her boldness. The friendship suited them both; Elizabeth did not like the hard detail work the movement required, and Susan was tireless, steadfast and not much of a writer. Their first idea was a woman's temperance society, but that fell apart when males were admitted into the organization. The men changed the name of the society to the People's League, and bullied all the women out. A new message and structure was needed for the movement to survive.

Susan spent most of her time when she was not travelling at Elizabeth's house. Although she did not agree with Elizabeth on everything, she usually objected only at the moments when Elizabeth's impracticality was evident. Stanton's revolutionary ideas about divorce and birth control were as new to many of her allies as they were to her foes.

Whereas Elizabeth's father had been dismissive and condescending about her ideas, Daniel Anthony's only objection to his daughter's new life was that he knew he would see less of her. She carried the message so far and so fast that she very nearly lost her toes from frostbite.

This organizing precipitated the first victory of their movement, a successful if temporary challenge to the English common law which viewed women as property instead of as property holders. The next step was merely the full and complete citizenship of women, and both women would be long dead before that was accomplished.

A sense of history extended over the age. They knew a total overhaul was impossible within their lifetime. This inspired Susan and Elizabeth to pursue their many volumed History of Woman Suffrage. Many of Susan's friends within the movement got married while they waited, and recommended it to her. One told her, "Get a good husband. That's all dear." She viewed their choices as something of a betrayal, since it was impossible to dedicate yourself fully to the cause if you were a mother.

In 1857, she was forced to cancel the National Women's Rights Convention because of this.

Elizabeth & her children

Susan spent much of the Civil War in Kansas, aiding freed slaves. Elizabeth wrote her often:

I hope in a short time to be comfortably in a new house where we will have a room ready for you when you come East. I long to put my arms around you once more and hear you scold me for my sins and short-comings. Your abuse is sweeter to me than anybody else's praise.

Elizabeth's own marriage was an unhappy one. She related to her husband only on the few issues with which they shared some common interest; it would be kind to say she was mostly humoring him. As she became older, the movement looked to Susan for its leadership, and Elizabeth scaled back her public speaking. Elizabeth's ideas about interracial marriage, employment and financial rights, and a woman's right to refuse her husband still remained outside the mainstream. When Frederick Douglass married a white woman, Helen Pitts, in 1884, Susan begged her friend not to publish a letter of a support.

They were always told, "this is not the way." As banal as their methods were, men were insistent on making them scandalous and extreme. When someone loses the ability to argue their point, they attack their opponent's method of persuasion, in unending fashion. The method by which something is done constitutes the least important aspect of it. Elizabeth's eloquence and Susan's persistence eventually managed to make such a rebuke impossible.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording and the on-again off-again love interest of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"The Hours" - Beach House (mp3)

"Wishes" - Beach House (mp3)

"Troublemaker" - Beach House (mp3)


In Which The Keys Are Waiting To Be Cut

This Parking Lot


Have you ever seen a giraffe run? I’ve been told it’s an astonishing sight. Imagine a herd of them from a distance, running across an open plain. Giraffes can run over thirty miles an hour, but their height makes the movement appear slow. They glide in great galloping strides, their necks like young trees swaying to and fro. I’ve never seen giraffes run, but the word I use to describe it is elegant.

What about a field of gladiolas in bloom? Gladiola stalks hold five or six flowers, so I imagine an entire field to be a magnificent blanket a foot deep of color and quivering softness. The field in my mind goes on for miles.

These are the two sights I hope to see before I die.

I’m still young; I’ve got time. I mention it because right now I’m looking out a window onto a parking lot. Beyond the parking lot is a Piggly Wiggly, and beyond the Piggly Wiggly is the horizon. It’s a mountainous horizon, and if I close my eyes and think about it I can smell the pine in those mountains and feel the pine needles pricking my palms. I can conjure the presence of a red fox stealing along a slab of granite. But that’s all so close it isn’t romantic. Giraffes and gladiolas are romantic, miles away, nowhere near this parking lot.

When it snows, before the plows come, it looks like a frozen lake. I cross it gingerly, and pretend there’s ice beneath my feet, and fish, and maybe an undiscovered body. This parking lot will in all probability determine whether I ever pick gladiolas in a field or go to the Serengeti.

We own a key shop, and that key shop is marooned right in the middle of the lot.  We are the lot’s center, its heart, or depending on how you want to interpret it, its plantars wart. This is not my term, it’s Mr. Jennings’ term. Mr. Jennings smokes Virginia Slims, owns the Piggly Wiggly, and wants to incorporate our key shop into his Piggly Wiggly. By incorporate I mean he wants to rip it down. The problem for him though, is that we also own the parking lot, and my father won’t sell. My great- grandfather cut down whatever it was that used to grow here in those days and paved it with oyster shells, my grandfather got rid of the shells and smoothed it over with concrete, and my father finished it off with asphalt and built a key shop.  Everyone around here calls my father Llave because of his passion for keys, even me.  He loves it. I wonder often where those oyster shells came from. They must have come a long way.

The problem for us is that the key shop doesn’t have a bathroom. This is our unfortunate dependency on Mr. Jennings’ Piggly Wiggly. He threatens us saying he’ll sue us if we use the bathroom in the store, and then Llave says he’s just going to get a portable toilet, but then neither of them do anything. Mr. Jennings’ Piggly Wiggly is only twenty years old, but something in him believes that it’s not appropriate for a little key stand to preside over this grand expanse, and that by virtue of his superior size, he should own it instead. I wish we’d just sell it to him. Then we could leave. When I tell Llave this, he grumbles and says if only I had a son who cared to learn how to cut keys, who understood the import of private property and the gravity of owning a piece of earth like this, a place where people bring their automobiles to rest, a space which bears witness to the comings and goings of generations.  Llave doesn’t realize that it is significant to me. I took my first steps on it as a child; I learned to ride a bike over it. (I practiced at sunrise, when there were no cars and I could go fast). I even lost my virginity to Jimmy Stewhousen in an orange Dodge Dart parked in space number 154.

And I do know how to cut keys; he taught me. It’s not as complicated as when he learned, operating the machines by hand with cranks. Our machine is automatic. When I was younger I had to wear goggles, but now I sit in the key stand for hours, alone, making keys. It’s bone cold in there, even with the half door shut. I keep a space heater at my feet, which helps, but the keys are like little icicles in my hands and my fingers get stiff. The work is too delicate for gloves.  Sometimes I move the space heater to the counter to warm my hands, but then my feet go numb. Llave says it would be ridiculous to install a heating system in a key shack, and that if I embrace the cold I won’t feel it.  I try. I listen to the grinding of the copper and think of all the various doors the keys will open, and that grinding stays with me till I fall asleep, even lingers through the night. He’s wrong to accuse me of failing to learn. What I’m guilty of is failing to see the art in the enterprise. No one’s opening any doors for me.

Two weeks ago when I was taking a cigarette break I made a significant discovery.  The circumstances are relevant to explain. I was taking a walk because Llave doesn’t know I smoke and it was a nice evening. The ice had melted, and there were clear puddles all over the lot. It looked like a shattered mirror reflecting the sunset sky. I was enjoying my cigarette, and this feeling of stolen delight inspired me to wander inside the Piggly Wiggly to see if I could catch a glimpse of Timmy Jennings, Mr. Jennings’ son, the man I love. Timmy Jennings knows I exist, but he doesn’t love me — yet. He’s kind to me though, and I’ve always thought this is because he’s ashamed of his father. When Mr. Jennings drives by the key shop in his Buick and yells I’m gonna put you in the bone crushing machine! out the window, Timmy sits by in the passenger seat and covers his face with his big, strong hands. Timmy looks like he doesn’t belong here. He never seems to be cold. Even when we were kids he didn’t wear a scarf, just a big jacket left open over a white t-shirt so the world could see his chest, which is muscular now; the tendons of his neck make rivulets down to his shoulders when he smiles. And he’s blond. No one here is blond. It’s too cold to be blond. But Timmy is blond and his hair is thick and he likes to smooth his hands over it. It’s his gesture to fill time. He does it whenever he’s waiting, for a customer to count out her change, for the Coke machine to dispense a Coke, for me to respond when he says hello. When I’m in the key shop alone, staring out at the lot, I think of the giraffes and the gladiolas and I think of Timmy. I run my fingers along the wall of keys waiting to be cut and sing songs about Timmy to the hushed clink of the metals.

I was roaming the dairy aisle when I saw Timmy behind the bottles of milk. He was stocking in the back. I knew it was him because I’ve been looking at him for so long that I’ve memorized the lines of his broad shoulders, especially when he’s bending down. I pretty much only see him at the Piggly Wiggly, and he’s always working, and his job, whatever his exact position is, seems to involve a lot of bending. I keep a low profile at the Piggly Wiggly, so he doesn’t always notice me, but he did that day. I was peering through the milk when he caught my eye.

“Bold move,” he said, also through the milk. “What are you doing in here?”

“Just getting some things,” I said, even though I wasn’t carrying anything. 

“Need any help?”

My face was hot and I choked. “No,” I said. “I just need to use the restroom.” I was trying to be casual, but my voice wavered. I regretted saying this as I said it. Whenever anyone tells me they need to use the restroom I imagine them sitting on the toilet and wiping themselves. I would not allow Timmy Jennings to imagine me sitting on the toilet wiping myself. “I mean to wash my hands.”

“Okay,” he said, and picked up a box and turned away.

There’s no explaining why I followed him. All I can say is that something in his manner, Need any help? felt like an invitation. I slipped through the clear plastic blinds into the back area, where I saw him walking down a hallway and into a dark room. He left the door ajar, and I stepped quietly. I imagined he knew I was behind him, which is why he didn’t close the door. Keys did not cross my mind. The fact that I was sneaking around Mr. Jennings’ Piggly Wiggly did not cross my mind. I fully expected to arrive at that doorway and have sex with Timmy Jennings, nothing less. He had asked me if I needed help. I had told him no. But no means yes.  He was going to see me there at the threshold and grab me and slam the door and lift my skirt and penetrate me with the force of a heavy machine. I operate a machine everyday; I understand the authority of an effective machine. You permit the machine to do its work; you are at its mercy. All you have to do is turn it on.

What I saw when I reached the doorway was an empty room. The only light seemed to materialize, not shine, from a low corner. I heard grunting. I ran my hand along the wall for a light switch. My faith was still firm. I found a light, and flipped the switch. The new light was bare and green, too real, but I was confident. The grunting stopped, and Timmy emerged from what I now saw was a hole. His face and arms were dusted with dirt. His tight white-tshirt was gray with it, his yellow hair a shade darker. He was expressionless, looked awestruck. I probably looked awestruck too. I was. I said nothing, I was waiting for him to take me in his arms.

Ten seconds or a year passed. Then I said, “Aren’t you going to take me in your arms?”

I’ve been running this phrase over in my mind today, singing it to the clings and clangs of the keys. Aren’t you gonna gonna gonna take me in your arms? Singing it helps me believe I said it. Otherwise, it’s like listening to myself on a recording. I don’t recognize my own voice.

“What?” he said.

Suddenly I was thinking of keys, of the cup of coffee I left sitting next to the cash register at the key shop. I observed myself standing in this back room of the Piggly Wiggly. I felt naked. Powerless. Kaput. I forgot I was wearing a skirt and tried to put my hands it my pockets.  The awkwardness made me want to scream.           

“You’re covered with dirt,” I said.

He stared at me. He looked rugged and strong covered with dirt.  He smoothed his hands over his hair and this made his arm muscles flex. I was short of breath.

“What’s down there?” I asked.

He paused, dropping his brow. “You don’t like that key shop do you?” he said. It was a question but he wasn’t asking. I wanted to say, no I don’t, but I thought of Llave and kept my mouth shut. This was Mr. Jenning’s son, even though it was Timmy. He continued. “Because I don’t like this Piggly Wiggly.”

I swallowed. “I don’t think I like this Piggly Wiggly or the key shop.”

“And I don’t like that parking lot.”  He pointed to the door. I understood what he meant. Timmy had grown up on the lot too. I knew his memories were probably fond, but what is fondness worth in the end? Fondness isn’t love. It isn’t hate. There was no use in being fond of the parking lot. Timmy was telling me he wanted to get out. I felt the warmth of perception and I gasped.

“Is that a tunnel?” I asked.

“Yes it is,” he said.

Dazzled is the only word that comes close. He switched off the green overhead light and took me by the hand into the tunnel. A line of gold twinkle lights ran overhead. The aroma of loam and muck was so extreme as to be squeezable.  I was dazzled almost to tears. He thought it was the tunnel I found so dazzling. Really it was because I was so in love with him. The tunnel was part of it of course, but the proximity really did it. His back was inches from my breasts, his hand was rough and solid.  I wasn’t even in a trance, my feet were on the earth, and I was utterly in love. It didn’t occur to me to ask where the tunnel led. All I knew was that it led to the place where Timmy and I would live when we were married.

We walked silently, deeper in. The ground was soggy and the rubber on my sneakers sucked the ground and made popping noises. He was wearing boots. Finally, he stopped.

“Do you know where it goes?” he said, turning around. His face looked small and intent under the little lights.

“Far away?” I said. I wanted him to smile. Our lips were only a few inches apart.

“Exactly,” he said, still intent. “Where do you want to go?”

“Africa,” I said. I pursed my lips a bit and stood straight. The chill in the tunnel made my nipples hard and I could feel them there beneath my blouse, standing at attention, staring him down.  All you have to do is turn the machine on.

He took a step back, and the heel of his boot  plashed in a puddle. “Really?” he said. A new tone. Not purposeful anymore, but silly. “I want to go to Paris,” he said.

I nearly jumped. “We can go to Paris. Paris sounds wonderful.”

“We don’t have to go to the same place,” he said. I ignored the implication of this comment and let him continue. “This tunnel goes to the key shop, you know that right?”

I didn’t know that at all. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean I’m going to burn the key shop down,” he said. I remember watching his mouth move, not listening. I just watched and strung the words together. “If I set the fire from below it won’t look like arson. It works out for everyone this way. Llave will get insurance money to build a new key shop somewhere better, and then he can sell the lot to my Dad because he won’t have the incentive to keep it anymore. Everybody ends up with more money, which means you could leave, and I could leave. Problem solved.” He smiled now, beamed.

I saw it all. The key shop aflame. A brand new, more impressive key shop elsewhere. Llave often said he wanted to upgrade, but would he want this? I tried to consider this state of affairs as reality. 

“Does your father know?” I asked.

“Of course not,” he said. “If it were up to him I’d live in the Piggly Wiggly forever. This has to look like an accident.”

The harder I think of it now, the less it makes sense. I should have asked him why he built this elaborate tunnel with electricity. From a practical standpoint, it’s absurd. I’m still wondering how he could have predicted that Llave would sell the lot simply because the shop was burned. 

Timmy noticed my concern. “No one would get hurt. You’d be free. Africa.”

Llave always says that a keymaker must, above all, be moral. A keyman sees his customers’ addresses. A keyman sees his customers’ cars. A keyman looks into his customers’ eyes. And he makes the instrument that opens the doors into his customers’ lives. You are a keywoman.

“No,” I said to Timmy.

“You might end up here forever,” he said.

I looked up and noticed in the mud above there were shattered oyster shells. I wanted to tell Timmy they were my great-grandfather’s shells, but the context felt strange, and I was still in love.  The twinkle lights were so warm, his face beautiful.

“What about us?” I said.

“You can go wherever you want,” he said.

“No,” I said. “I mean you and me.” I moved my eyes to his hand, still holding mine.

“Oh,” he said. He hesitated. Then he took my other hand. We stood across from one other holding hands.  I waited for him to kiss me. “Pretty keygirl,” he said. “I’m gay.”

It was a long walk through the tunnel back to the Piggly Wiggly.  I didn’t need to tell Timmy to abandon his plan; he knew it was off the table. I climbed out of that hole devastated, and clear-headed. Back in the dairy section Timmy seemed depressed, but gave me a carton of chocolate milk and apologized. He chose the coldest jug and shook it for ten seconds. I hugged him because I felt we’d been betraying each other, injuring each other somehow, all along, without realizing it. There would be no love, no crime, no destination. Right now, there’s another cold alpine wind blowing over the parking lot, and I’m scraping mud off my boots.

Yvonne Georgina Puig is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can find her website here.

"Otherside" - Delta Spirit (mp3)

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