From Salt Hill Journal 36
St. Christopher (the skins), Chris Lux, 2010
Is it better to put the letter in the mailbox or in the garbage? The letter is addressed to a person who has both righted and wronged her, many times over and in an order with no math to it. She stands on the northeast corner of Franklin and Dean. Men and their stupid names. A cold wind like a wimpy chokehold. At the southeast corner, a city-issued trashcan, green mesh and rat filled. On the northwest corner, a federal mailbox, creak-jawed, blue as her shoes. To make matters worse she is dressed as a mime: midnight spandex bodytard; opalescent gloves; blue leather jazz flats and a blue knit cap. Her hair tucked into the cap is still, complicatedly, red. To be a redhead is to be, from birth, a divisive woman.
In order to think, she goes into a bar. It’s early; it’s eleven in the morning and the bar is not a gentrified one. She orders a tequila soda, poor woman’s margarita. It’s December. The phrase “white as a sheet” applies to the air outside, but in here the air is warm, carpeted, the color of wine. There are silver-tinseled windows and inflatable palm trees and a bad sound system. “A mime walks into a bar,” the bartender says, and leaves it there, unfinished. “Then what?” the mime asks. The bartender shrugs, looks embarrassed, walks away. He seemed to think the mime would finish the joke, or at least remain silent.
The red-haired woman in blue mime-wear is named Jane Elliot. This, you might remember, is also the false identity that Jane Eyre takes, post-Thornfield Hall, after Jane’s love has spoiled and her spirit crushed and the reader sits bathing in her own tears, pizza growing cold and hard. The mime orders a second. The palm tree in the corner is half-deflated and looking hangdog. It brings to mind one-night-stand erections—the sensitive, drunk, coming-and-going ones. She can’t get too drunk in here, or too sad, because she has her first real gig this afternoon. Until now, she’s only been a bedroom mime, perfecting her craft in her 7x9’ room, for which she pays $965/month not including electric, internet, or dignity. She’s gotten good at the trapped-in-a-box; even better at the noose-tie; the hanging; the slapstick fall and the endless revolving door. She’s gotten very good at one she calls The Missing: patting the air over the empty space in her double bed on the floor, invisibly sculpting the very curvature and lumpage, planed chest and coat-hanger shoulders, even the contours of the wheezy, mouth-open expression, of a person who isn’t there.
“So you’re gigging out now?” her dad asked last week on the phone. He is a lawyer, but he lived through the sixties and so thinks he knows something about the performing arts.
The phrase has lodged itself in her brain like a virally bad song, arising in annoying moments. Gigging out. Gigging out.
As it turns out, there is no bed at the PS127 winter carnival on which to perform her signature blue move. As it turns out, Jane Elliot, overshadowed by the bouncy castle and the acres of cupcakes, attracts no children, standing in the paper-snowflaked corner of the gymnasium, mime-reading a novel by one of the Brontë girls. She is satisfied, at least, with the hundred-dollar bill the principal gave her on arrival, warm with the knowledge of it in her bag, flush against the letter she has neither mailed nor discarded, but will continue carrying around until a hoped-for day in the future when some accidental happening—an alien abduction or an overturned canoe, a freak fire, rising waters, or a stranger—will come around and shake everything up.