2 | A Woman of Hats
A fall breeze gallivanted through the open windows of a rusting Malibu coupe, a classic car, traversing interstate 81 in New York. The cream landau roof repaired his mentality with visions of October in Florida, the delirious eves of late autumn, camping with Joe, and craft Old Yellowstone from a meander to Louisville from I-71, admittedly a sophomoric folly. He zigzagged the two-door, weaving lanes to celebrate the whole idea of Louisville, for a mile, commending also Scranton, and happily leaving Pennsylvania, and revering the thought of not having to explain the temporary departure from New York state to Mariya any more; from a plain perspective, it did not make any sense, but I-84, the real culprit, exited the city, and New York, I-81 was only a clear thoroughfare to Syracuse, but Pennsylvania billboards easily narrowed their scope. Suffice Mariya was pleased again with the roadway, and the course from Brooklyn, “up-state,” onto Syracuse and Onondaga Lake, and she continued to shelve his vow the Onondaga was recently promoted to a Great Lake. She didn’t mention the aspersing claim, as an error, or one of his errors, or the wind in the Malibu, and pressed her suede black Fedora against the headrest, and eschewed the foliage, too.“Tell me about your dog.”
“My dog?” he answered, settling into the four, and three, and two lanes of the highway. He had never mentioned a dog.
He actually wanted to talk about hats. He ducked his eyes in the rear view mirror to estimate her collection. The complete set of Mariya’s belongings had been stacked in square rows, and precariously tied within the partly-open trunk of the Malibu, in order to use of the coupe’s roomy back seat to house many dozen orbed cylinders asserting fashionable women’s hats. He recounted them in his mind, – a wool felt, he liked that one; a fisherman, a number of turbans and berets, a straw hat, he knew, generally for Florida; yet another, which he hadn’t located, and was churlish just to think of – a silk, black plug, worn once possibly by Honest Abe. If Mariya was pressed about the millinery, – “a million milliners, Mad Hatters, – she allowed just “I am a woman of hats,” and eschewed his joshing for Lincoln, or any other preambles.
She was moving to Syracuse from New York City to develop her a career further as a university researcher, Mariya had arrived in New York from a school in Minsk. “You must have had a dog in your life,” she reiterated, hosting pleasantry from the wrath of highway reality.
He recalled, “My brother had one. He had a dog. Brought it to California. Falcon. I think it’s name was Falcon.”
She became more pensive, gazed from the window, and didn’t look at him. “You can’t forget these things, or they slip away. Falcon has probably forgotten you.”
“That was ages ago,” he responded. “It wasn’t even my dog.”
There was a carafe of orange juice velcroed to the console in the front seat; resting next to it, on Mariya’s side, was an opened bottle of chilled champagne from a Dollar General in Binghampton; they had slowed from drinking it after they mulled visiting Cincinnatus from Whitney Point on 41. “No matter,” she told him, unconvincingly, about a dog, and she blankly tipped champagne into his paper cup. Her hair was jet-black, and straight upon her shoulders, and usually out of place. “Remember to remember things.”
He signaled into another lane for I-81, and motored to the off-ramp. “People want to be remembered,” he amended. “People want to be immortal, they want everybody to remember them.”
“Is that what you want?” Mariya asked, ever slightly vexed. He shrugged, uneasy in a new lane, and avoided the conversation like passing cars. He would otherwise have to agree it was perverse for him to be driving Mariya away to Syracuse. They had a detente about it, “an accord, a compact,” left wanting for details.
They arrived at off-campus housing for the University of Syracuse, meandered on to fresh paved, unfamiliar streets, and, after parking at Building 8, Room 15, on the first floor, laboriously carried boxes, craft beer, and occasional mimosas into her new place. He had preempted the talk, and he assured Mariya, in the offing, how now he could easily recall the way on Interstate 81 to this very road, and her apartment building, and, listening to his own voice, had began to believe it. “Love,” he assuaged, to Mariya’s skeptical eyes, “is never too far away.” She winced, squinting in the sunlight.
He wondered, casually, carrying boxes, if they had talked about the accord along the way, and if possibly he had missed it; maybe five miles or so, from the Syracuse exits, when she sipped from her plastic glass, and efforting, with very little effort, toward the high ground. Mariya had placed her elbow out of the passenger window. She said, “I know the five main things about you, so I feel normal. It makes me think.” But she continued to say, “It’s not about you”; that was when concentrated on the road. “I know enough to say those five things are untrue. We presume we know people, but we don’t. We don’t really know anything. We’re strangers in this – this beautiful world, after we decide one, or another is not a threat, a threat to anyone. You’re a stranger. I’m a stranger. We go one day to the next, to a wall, this private wall. And we live, and we move away, or someday we die, and we never knew anyone. The city, New York City, just makes it worse.” A smile creeped along in her chin, not because of her soliloquy, but because he was nodding, and it usually meant he was thinking about the Mets.
He nodded, gravely, and out of place, driving the Malibu coupe, and offered sheepishly, “Just the facts, ma’am. Yes. The Kool-Aid is a lie.”
He saw Mariya in Herald Square, after three years. He believed it was Mariya, but knew it was impossible. It reminded him of a time he saw Mariya at Macy’s, at the front doors, too far away to shout, but he didn’t try, and didn’t know why. It was a woman, anyway, about a hundreds of yards away, the same type of woman, the same size and demeanor. She was waving a black straw Fedora at the cab, and leaning from the wind. It was hard to explain. He didn’t holler to her, an impulse restrained him, wanted to just let her be. Of course, it was not possible the woman in Herald Square was Mariya. It was his mind unsure of it; once, certainly, if not both times. She had emerged from the stretch of a shiny blue Buick; a chauffeur had opened her door. She happened into the street, and onto the sidewalk, and, with reluctance, to the store. She had many virtues, Mariya, but a limousine was surely not one of them. She was an exchange student from Minsk, surviving on financial aid, and living with her close friend, Kapitolina. He stared at the Macy’s doors, those years later. He grimaced, and fixed his eyes instead on height of the Empire State building. Mariya was living in Bavaria, he deluded himself, and was taken aback, knowing it was untrue. It eased his mind. Mariya described, the day traveling on I-81, after departing Pennsylvania, her recurring dream. “It was really quite beautiful,” she said, making conversation. “Its hard to say it where it was. It was, you know, vague. It was definitely Bavaria. I’ve been there.”
“Bavaria is in Germany,” he said, and reached for a Mimosa.
“It’s a dream, so, I can go anywhere,” said Mariya. “It was like one of those dreams, you know, where you’re lost in flowers.” She confided, “I don’t think that has ever happened to anyone.” They laughed near the signs for Marathon, two cynics alone in the morning. Mariya finished, “It was kind of a drag, really. I was walking forever on this dirt road. It was near this truly gorgeous peninsula, but I could never reach it. I was marveling about all of the roofs of these homes, these buildings, they were like, A-frames, brown, gingerbread houses. It must have been Bavaria; fifteenth century, so I, but I – I couldn’t get there, all these dormers, cradled by the mountains.”
“Gingerbread,” he repeated.
“Right. I think –”
They say dusk in New Netherlands is the reason why it was eventually renamed Jersey, and New Jersey. If any, there were few who knew the Mohawk tribe was wandering loosely, on a hike, and making a pass at a hunt, and generally headed toward the isle of Manhattan. The Mohawk tribe assumed it would soon encounter a smaller tribe, like the Lenape, along these hashed paths. The Mohawk chief asked his wife, Daisy, abruptly, “What if Lenape want a war?” and the chief thought about it, and added, generously, “We could do a war.”
“They would be stupid,” Daisy iterated. “They probably don’t have any weapons.”
The Mohawk chief wound around in the saddle, to rediscover his purposes. “What do we want again? With the Lenape.”
Frustrated, Daisy responded, “We want to meet their braves, and their squaws. We have too many braves, and too many squaw. We want to meet Lenape.”
“One of those meetings,” replied the chief, feeling for a wad of tobacco in his chest pocket.
The Mohawk band opted indefatigably to camp in the Newark hills; the chief had envisioned a great trip, a journey to cover the expanse of this unsettled state, one day to become New Jersey, and a return to New York to visit the two forts, the Nassau of Big Timber Creek, and Oswego at the great Lakes. Their guest was a pale-face, a purported buffalo hunter, who was riding close to them. The chief and Daisy fell further into the pack of the braves, and their horses. “I have great news,” the chief confided to the man, later in the day, when they would gather at the campfire in the early evening, and the pale man again sat next to the chief, presuming, resuming, the honor. The chief continued, “Daisy tells me you will never kill a deer. That is okay.” He reminded the chief buffalo was his prey. Daisy sat up on the ground, but didn’t mention no buffalo had yet fallen to his skill.
The chief motioned around the fire with his arm. “Daisy says you will marry a squaw, and she will kill the deer. Is that not great?” The chief gave the pale man a sacred gift, a woven basket.
He answered. “Tatanka.”
“No tatanka,” the Mohawk chief allayed. He realized he was miffed, but he didn’t soften his tone. “You’re not a brave. There is no time. We shall ask Daisy more. Won’t we?”
The chief’s wife leaned into their conversation knowingly, and commanded the pale face, who eventually obliged her. Daisy said, “You must stand up, like you will search for her! This will be cement.”
He recalled telling Mariya, on a plain stretch of highway on I-84, “Did you know it’s a sin to talk about how someone dies. They say it diminishes them in heaven.” He sat tensely now against a brick wall, on a new wooden bench, in the lobby of the Armory Square post office in Syracuse.
The space between the highway signs had expanded to nearly five miles. Mariya was captivated in the foliage, and said something he didn’t hear. It had been a comment from a divinity student in one of his classes. “In the After-world,” he told her, “if someone told someone how they died, they say, told them about their last, actual moments, the legend is, the person would then experience it again. They would be caught a time-warp. Did you ever hear that one?”
It irritated Mariya, however, and she neglected to answer him. “You’re on tenure?” she remarked, with another smile, and resumed leaf-peeping. He nodded, and didn’t get it.
The Mohawk chief was elated riding up to their paleface guest on the hike to Manhattan the following day, and the latter noticed a fair amount of mirth engaged between him, and Daisy. The chief took his elbow to share the news. “You remember, I said this is great news?”
He was said no, dismayed, and there were many buffalo to take, but he relented, and reminded him he had stood, and was definitely searching for a Mohawk squaw. “It’s okay, Daisy says,” the chief said.
“She will kill the deer, the squaw will kill deer,” glowed the chief. “We will find one for you, and it is solved!”
He felt morose, and decided to ignore him. “Not to worry.,” the chief assured him. “Unless, unless –”
Daisy heard the chief, and she chuckled. She knew what the chief would say next, it was second nature, it was the “laugh of a buffalo.”
“Unless?” the pale man asked.
The chief’s gazed blankly. He said, “Unless she picks a brave.”
A postman entered the Syracuse lobby deliberately, methodically towing a cart with one hand, hoisting a bag to his other shoulder, and could never have seen him on the bench, not at four in the afternoon; it was thirty minutes to closing time. The postman pushed open the glass doors to air the lobby, and shook the rubber mat for snow, or debris. He assisted an elderly man, who was escorting an elderly woman, and they arduously pushed a large, cardboard box through the doorway with a hand truck. The post office lobby was empty otherwise empty until Mariya did arrive, wearing a tan blazer with blue jeans, and the straw Fedora, likely the only one she could find until she was unpacked in the dorm. He would always wonder to whom the letter was addressed; it was probably to the university, since it had to be certified mail, or, possibly a request for a birth certificate from Minsk. Mariya paused at the postal counter to fill out the certification form, and she tipped her straw hat to see it. He would stand closer the next time he came to the Syracuse lobby, even next to her, to see the address, and the form. Mariya put her left hand to her cheek, and she pulled at the metal cord securing the pen, adjusted her hat, and fretting, perhaps about the weather, or the unknown street address, slouched on one elbow. She continued to slouch, slowly, and slid motionless beneath the counter to the gray, tile floor.
These were the first, and earliest days of his time in academia, the days Saturday morning was reserved for more social research, and sampling the best available foreign coffee in the world, a Lavazza, or a Vietnamese, or Turkish-Greek mix, with croissants at Battery Park, in Manhattan, on the Esplanade, – as close to dawn as it was possible, for the view of the harbor. His cell phone bleeped a message from Joe, likely about beating the dealers to the Saturday flea markets, and an “urgent” call from Mariya’s friend, Kapitolina. He ignored them. They wanted to ask him about the Broadway dancer who stood him up, which they didn’t know yet, and they would regale to a point of distraction. They liked to call the Broadway lady a “Rockette,” using a deep, and heavy Soviet brogue. He smiled, and gritted his teeth into one half of the croissant.
As if viewing an unexpected guest, a Long-eared Owl, brown, and white, cascaded towards him from the air near the trees. He was startled, and he thought it was an eagle, from its claws. The owl was genial, it was a mere hello, and it chose a branch in the trees well-above his bench. He said aloud, about the owl, “Big as Volkswagen.”
The Long-ear uttered the owls’ hooting sound, which always seemed ominous to him: “Hoo hoo hoo.” He sipped the coffee, and braced in the early morning air. He knew a birder who told him an owl visits somebody twice, if, and when it does once is to say hello, and, once, good-bye. ◊
¤ JUKE BOX ¤
Theme: “Afterglow,” Phaeleh | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 51-Et Al,” a myopic vaile (No. 46)
..… from “^; or, CARET,” III of III,
The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories, by Soda Tom
[Complete Works, No. 01]
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