Lila Cecil

I look at my lamp. “I’m in love with you,” I tell it.

My lamp who has a beautiful but worn rattan shade says, “Oh, come on, you aren’t in love with me, who’s the guy?”

“There isn’t any guy. You have the most beautiful shade. It stops my heart. I can’t get over it. It makes me swoon.”

“Uh huh. Right.” The lamp frowns. “Who’s the

I ignore it. “I love the rug on the chair beside you, too. You, rug, have the most beautiful colors. It’s almost unrealistic, your beauty.”

“Don’t drag me into this,” the rug says.

“All right already,” says the lamp. “Let’s talk about the man. Who is he?”

“Do I have to tell you a million times?” I say. “There is no man.”

“Yes,” says the lamp. “Because that’s been your shtick for so long how are we to believe you’re seeing us all on your own.”

I shrug my shoulders at the lamp and the rug and the beautiful grey sky outside my window. “Maybe I’m maturing,” I tell them.

Tomorrow is a different kind of day.

I wake up at 7:48 a.m. I go back to sleep. I wake up again and it is 11:12 a.m. I need a gurney to get me out of bed.

By 12:37p.m. I’ve made it to the kitchen and am trying to convince my arm to reach the teakettle. It doesn’t see the point so I give up and slide down the refrigerator door.

“Hey, hey, hey,” the teakettle says. “Look, look, look. You still have your lovely apartment, your dedicated friends, your good job, and light and color, which always equal beauty. You still have the sky that even when cloudy does something inside you to make you feel a little release—maybe a little aching, maybe some longing—but you are moving around in there. It is not all stone. Your mug, full of tea in the mornings, still warms your palms while you are looking out over the garden.”

I feel a bit better, rise and my arm works with me to turn on the stove under the kettle, though once the flame is lit, I collapse again.

“Hold on. Just hold on. I’m right here,” the floor says.

“Hey, hey, hey,” the teakettle says, heating up. “You still have this rug your mother brought back to you from Mexico that is shameless in its naked color.”

The rug pipes up. “You could be blind and don’t ever forget it!”

“But,” I say, “it was a mistake. Oliver made a mistake. It was a wrong turn, he made a wrong turn and now he can’t get back on the right lane. Should I help him?”

“No,” everything turns and says to me in unison. “His loss.”

I make tea and am happy until I look up and the clouds in the sky look like bandages.

“What are you all to me?” I throw up my arms in exasperation. “You don’t breathe into my face,” I tell the lamp and the teakettle. “You don’t have breath that makes me die of pleasure because of the soft silkiness of it around my lips,” I tell the rug. They pause here because they know I have a good point. “You don’t sleep next to me.”

The lamp goes and gets out the old red American Heritage dictionary and flips through the pages. The lamp quotes: “‘Be’ means to exist in actuality; to have reality or life. To exist in a specified place; stay; reside.”

The trees, rugs and teakettle shrug their shoulders. “Maybe you ought to stop needing that other thing so much.”

“What? Love?”

“You know what we are talking about. We are the ones that are here for you now.”

“But I want it back! Don’t you understand? Every movement of mine is about getting it back. I’ll have a glass of water so I am not thirsty so that when it comes back I won’t be too dehydrated. I’ll check my e-mails every five seconds so that when it comes back I can have it right away. I’ll make plans with friends and shop for groceries so when it comes back I won’t be too depressed to see it.”

“What’s ‘it’?” They ask.

“It,” I say. “It, it, it.”

Across the street, my neighbors have put a cardboard Santa in their window. I tell Santa that I’m sick of being good for him; I want to know if he is good enough for me. Then I get in the bath.

“Ow,” I tell the water hours later, “Careful, that’s starting to hurt.”

Nine years ago, three months into our relationship of seven years, my ex-husband David and I took the BQE to Jones Beach, leaving Flatbush Avenue at 6:30p.m. It was summer and the nights were long. We were in the water when the sun was setting. The surf was calm and he held me like a child. That was the night that we held onto for too long.

In the living room mirror, my hair is flat on one side of my head. “Love me. Love me. Love me. I am not worthy,” I say out loud.

“Hold on now. Wait a minute! You’re so freakin’ worthy that you get to assess, is he worth your love?” says the mirror.

“Thank you. That’s a nice point of view,” I say.

“OK,” I announce to the kitchen. “So now I’m thinking along the lines of risotto with a starter of zucchini and pea soup. And then tomorrow, orecchietti with cherry tomatoes and basil and maybe a good movie from Netflix and then head to bed early to enjoy the 15-minute Lunesta high.” The kitchen rolls its eyes and reminds me where the take-out menus are. I open the drawer.

In bed, a part of me is just waving to the mainland of my mind, too far to actually converse. Thank God, because there has just been another war there and now impoverished thoughts are roaming around, angry, bereft, starting fires in the streets.

“Don’t look at me like that,” I say to my poetry books in the morning.

My poetry books shrug. “It’s your loss,” they say.

“I’m just trying to survive out here. I don’t have time for you. I have to worry about my hair color.”

I turn to the bathroom mirror who is being its usual hostile self.

“God, look at those black circles under your eyes,” the mirror says. “Plus, you have these red blotches on your face. Goodness!”

“Now look here,” says the other mirror, in the living room. “What a fine delicate chin you have, and your features are so well-proportioned. Life is fluid. Remember, there is no fixed way of looking at one’s self.” I like this mirror.

Am I up to making cake? The baking pan tells me that things are starting to take hold. “You are 38?”

“Thanks a lot.”

It nods. “The tin edges will soon be reached. The limits are there.”

“You don’t have to scream it in my face,” I tell it.

I look at the phone. “Ring, Goddammit. Ring. Ring. Ring.”

It shrugs. “Don’t feel like it,” it says.

“But you couldn’t stop ringing three months ago. It’s all you felt like doing.”

“Not anymore,” it says. “Things have changed.”

Oliver loved Gregorian Chants. I, on the other hand, like anyone who’s female and folksy. During the many nights of sitting in churches around the city and listening to chants, I found I could entertain myself by examining the eyebrows of each of the singers. Each one so unique!

Afterwards we often went out to dinner and Oliver would talk about the composer, briefly stating his background and how he fit into the history of music. On one particular night, we sat at French Roast uptown and he talked about the composer we had just listened to and how he was significant in the movement from music that serves God to music that serves Beauty.

I nodded. “Each one of those singers has such different eyebrows. Amazing, really, when you think of it. How many kinds of eyebrows there are in the world.”

“Um-hmm,” he said.

“OK,” I said to my plate, “OK. I will be his sounding board. That’s fine. I can live with that.”

It is 2:00 p.m. I check my e-mail. There is one from Oliver without a subject. I open it. He is asking if I would like to have coffee? Not this Friday but NEXT Friday—he capitalizes next so I don’t get confused and show up embarrassingly on the wrong day. I write that I’m busy till spring. The table tells me to hold on while the feelings pulse through.

Now I am in bed again. Vanessa Redgrave and I are having a nice conversation while we ignore Charlie Rose, who is going on about something. My fantasy, I tell Vanessa, is that we lived in a culture where the top models were busy going to art museums and reading books. Chekhov! Dostoevsky! Tolstoy! And that the model agencies were begging them, stating their case, pleading on their knees for their time. I tell Vanessa that what I really mean is that capitalism should be on its knees before us all using its best attorneys. And what I am really saying under that is that the people that should be begging to stay are the ones that leave. And what I am really saying beneath that is that Oliver should have been begging me to stay. He should have been stating his case to me. He was the capitalist, the model agency, and I was the citizen making my home among connections and trust.

Vanessa agrees with me entirely, as I knew she would.

I apologize to all the objects in the house as I announce that children are coming over. I tell the smaller ones that they will find themselves in mouths; to the larger ones I apologize for the chewed-up, spit-out food that will soon cover them. I love all the children I know, they send me to outer space with their love, but I don’t like eating around them. It’s hard to ingest food when it’s being spat out or dropped on the floor and there is mucus everywhere, and if it is not your mucus, meaning you have not raised them and bonded essentially with them, it’s just gross. And probably, if I’m being really honest with myself, maybe the fact that it’s not my mucus, that it’s not Oliver’s and my mucus coming out of a child, that leaves a big gaping hole in my heart.

After the children leave, I look out my window and open my arms and tell New York that I love it. “Is there anywhere else to live, really? I mean you’re crowded and infested with a certain cynicism but when you look up past the garbage, past the people in your face, past the traffic, the overkill sirens, and look at the night sky, the sounds become comforting. Anywhere else is just the outskirts of here. And we all deserve to feel that we have arrived, to feel like we’re in the center and not living some crumby life on the very outskirts of there.

A car alarm goes off for fifteen minutes.

“Don’t stare at me like that,” I say to the The Student’s Guide for Writing College Papers.

“How do you not want to shoot yourself everyday out of sheer boredom?” it replies. The poetry books beside it look at it with wonder and a little horror. The Student’s Guide looks miffed. “What did I do?” it says.

The next morning the clock says, “Um. Hello. It’s like, 9 a.m.”

“Oh. God.” I say. “Please, please, please, can you skip a few hours today? Like maybe five.”

“No can do.”

“Please, please, please.”

“Not in a million years.”

I am forced to sit here in this stuffy office and type in invoices. A person comes in, sits down and gives me a plastic card and I punch some numbers into my computer and then those numbers change the numbers in our bank account and then those numbers tell us that we can give some numbers to our landlord. I leave early. I try to get out before another person stops by my desk to say hi.

I can do this, I say to myself as I walk up 14th street to the Chase bank on the corner. I can do this. I can walk around with my heart completely broken. It’s not like I’m a pole jumper in the Olympics. This can’t be that hard. Other people do it.

I go into Chase Bank and wait in line. I ask the teller, “Do you ever have days where you just can’t do it. You just can’t hold back the tears. Where you are unable to fill in another slip because it so happens that your heart is cracking open?” She has big gold hoop earrings and gives me a hostile look.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she says.

I am back out into the street. I have my head bent down and I’m thinking if one more person gives me less then the allotted room of personal space I will kill them. I barrel towards my destination, head down. At 17th street and Broadway I open the enormous, religious-sized doors of ABC Carpet and an orchestra goes off in my head. Beauty! Right! I forgot all about that. Right, right, right. And even better, beauty for sale! I can buy it and I can take it home with me in a bag and I can deposit it in my apartment and I can be saved. So, I find a $900 lamp. I don’t actually like it so much. But it’s expensive and that seems like a good thing at the moment.

“You don’t have to convince me to buy this lamp,” I tell the effusively warm saleswoman. “I’m going to buy this lamp because it turns out that happiness isn’t just going to land in my lap.”

“That’s right, sister. You get anything in this store. Tell them to bag it. Whatever you want.” She, obviously, is my good friend.

It is spring and I am sitting across from Oliver at Bar 6 on 6th avenue. He is saying something about Gregorian chants. I am in awe. I can’t believe he’s still talking about Gregorian chants. He says something about a new recording he just bought.

“Oh boy, does he look good,” I tell my glass of wine. “I’ve never seen him in a cotton turtle-neck before. It suits him. This was not at all what I was expecting.”

“Easy on the heat,” I tell the heater blowing in my face. “He could look a little more well... devastated.”

I turn back to the glass of wine. “Easy,” it says. “You know how your face gets red when you drink too much.”

The heater is laughing at me. “Your face. It’s fire-engine red.”

“So I’m the one that looks wrecked?” I ask the wine glass. “I’m feeling disoriented,” I tell both of them. “Interesting,” I tell Oliver.

“Look what we have here,” Oliver said on our third date while we were lying on the couch.

“You get it all,” I told him.

Oliver and I went swimming one weekend, three months after we met. We took the B77 bus to Lorraine and Clinton streets, to the Red Hook public pool. He was scared. I was confident. Water can hold you both at the same time. You can move any way you want in water. You can spin upside down, you can circle your lover’s body like a fish while your lover smiles tentatively, his hands held above the water, scared that this will be what he remembers when he breaks your heart.

Lila Cecil is the co-founder of Paragraph, a workspace for writers in Manhattan. She received her MFA from the New School and is working on a collection of short stories. She was recently listed in the top stories category for Open City’s RRofihe Trophy.

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