PD Mallamo


The First

Strawberry strawberry strawberry blonde. I am not free, she thinks. Is anybody? White black/alpha omega, heavy with experience we fall gratefully into the arms of God.


But how can He expect me to live like this/synthetic-authentic nobody understands yet everybody lives anyway, a world of knockoffs & facades? Little world. Tiny life. For instance: How much energy and focus just to deal with the encumbrance of temptation?

She has done her duty to the species and to God: reproduced; reproduced in the covenant. Each one of us, she knows, is in thrall to something. For Kathleen, it is Kathleen. Am I stupid? Am I selfish? I am me, she decides, that’s it, neither good nor bad. I study that soft soft science of living. Catholics drink wine and smell good, somewhere between incense and Chanel. Mormons are boring and smell like soap and wool. I have avoided the big sins: cigarettes, adultery - but I’ve got a headfull of drive, especially for someone who by all rights should be only a housewife.


- but something deep inside me do if it believes I do not believe?
- suffered enough for my failings?

Aware, too, that Great Weakness may be misconstrued as yearning for the divine, or for it’s very existence. Careful, she thinks. Careful. You cannot know. Nobody can.


(Yet soon my borrowed atoms will scatter back across the universe. There is not time enough for everything. So -

- not too careful.)


She’s lost some weight and is surprised that a supple waist has reappeared and that her breasts are still large and full. I am not so beautiful that it corrupts me, she thinks, but I am certainly presentable. Let’s put some lipgloss on this pig.

It is Tuesday 8:30 a.m. and she is naked before the full-length in her bedroom, regarding herself from one angle and then another. She notes how the diffused light shades the planes of her face and shoulders and endows her with classic proportions. She wonders briefly if she is not a full-blown narcissist. Eyes large gray frank and, she notes, intelligent - but how would I ever know for sure unless someone other confirms?

She pulls shoes from the closet and examines them closely: Betsyville, Naughty Monkey, Corso Como, Dru New York, Miz Mooz. Too summer, she thinks, and goes back in. She finds the Sak’s sacks high up in the closet behind the folded sweaters and decides what to launder and what to wear fresh out of the bag.

Loverman, loverman, she says to the mirror and blows it a kiss. Where can you be?


There is Kathleen, and there is Kathleen X.

She smiles broadly as she boards the little Delta Bombardier whining its lovely turbinesong among piled snowmounds at Salt Lake International, Flight 861 for Chicago, and as she steps through the hatch she places her hand for luck momentarily on the cold fuselage. Sliding sideways to a starboard window seat just before the silver wing, she scans the aisle for familiar faces. There are none, which is a relief. She heaves her bag overhead. Two inebriated sorority girls occupy the seats behind; sneering Russian Mafia with ebonyslickedbacked hair and wraparound sunglasses the seats in front. A heavy, gasping woman plops into the seat beside and probes desperately beneath herself for a seatbelt.


Halfway across the Rocky Mountains she commits her first mindful transgression, which is coffee with cream & sugar at thirty-seven thousand feet, so close to God, she thinks, that undoubtedly He, too, can smell its lovely smoky aroma. Well, you made that bean, she says beneath her breath as if speaking rhetorically to a dear uncle who might be on the other side of the world floating down the Yangtze or Ganges, iced tea in hand. Don’t blame me. Try it my way (your favorite daughter) - park that miserable Mormon minivan and let’s walk together for a while. Warfare is getting us nowhere.


Kathleen has an orthodox husband who bores her stupid yet considers her the dunce - a chubby, self-absorbed little chap named Ernie who is endlessly enamored of his laptop and cheeseburgers, which he buys at a place in Bountiful called Hog Heaven. Because he speaks Mandarin and a related dialect he pick up during an LDS mission to Taiwan, and because he holds the priesthood, he thinks he knows everything. He’s at considerable remove from JohnnieJumpShot, her college sweetheart and widely–admired Weber State U. jock/hunk. When she returned from her own mission, God, in His still, small way, informed her that the plan had changed:

Ernie was It.

Goodbye Johnny.

What could she say?

Kathleen served a mission for a year and a half in Portugal and against all odds has not only maintained but enhanced her mastery of Portuguese, progressing from street-talk to Antonio Jacinto in three years. She does not think this gives her particular understanding into the more intricate workings of the universe, but looks forward to the day she can use it in Rio. Maybe the boss will send her there, too. She won’t go with Ernie, that’s for sure. Maybe Ernie can go somewhere with God. Then again, she now understands, with Mr. JumpShot romantic love would have been exposed even more quickly for the happy sham it is. Mr. Jumpshot would not have lasted as long as Ernie. The excuses we make for not-living are original and sometimes charming, but they are still excuses, and excuses are bad, she thinks.

Very bad.


The month is February, and except for today the Western sky has not stopped snowing since November. She opens her purse and in one deft move deposits her wedding ring and pulls out Ray-Bans, which she employs against the sunny glare. The view from the porthole is stupendous, overwhelming, especially with a little good coffee - a pure white world stretching away forever, a navy sky the consistency of wet porcelain. When the craft reaches the Great Plains she asks for another cup, looking down and over, slowly breathing, entirely awake, comprehending everything, as if she herself were divine. There are piano stores in Nebraska, she thinks. Who are the Lutherans? Judas Priest. Some soldier’s wife. Fireworks. Of Compton. Oriental theme for the basement. Chicanos on South Temple. Hand of the Lord. My children. Cowgirl. Council Grove. Fauxlife. Electra. Poe Street. Catholics. Sex –


(All the smart ones have already left for the cities – but say what you want about her, she’ll always loan you a buck)

We are ruthless in the absence of emotion, she abruptly realizes, and wonders what Ernie is doing now -

– then, My America, foremost in teeth whitening -

In the grand scheme, she concludes, this is probably more important than we think. She licks her lovely white teeth.


About now Ernie is clogging his brain with scripture and great buttery slices of whitebread. He is making sense. She hopes in the process he’ll find something to help him understand why she is leaving him for nothing other than herself. She wonders if he’ll be able to work through that little equation.

(Another dreamingstar for some poor earthbound soul this aircraft. I cannot see circling my arms around the neck of another woman’s man. That’s for someone else, I suppose.)


A coed makes her way forward, assuming in her blighted condition that the place to pee and vomit is up near the pilots. She wears a pricy little midriff sweater that exposes her shapely abdomen, and Kathleen can see that her lower back and only god knows what else is tattooed with scarlet Chinese characters. Ernie always has great fun with this, asking the victims of such self-mutilation if they have any idea what the script means. To one young woman in a Denver restaurant who revealed proudly that hers translates to Song of the Spring Flower, Ernie had said, No no, that’s not quite it. He had bent over, looked closely at her skin, taken his pen and scrawled a few radicals on his palm, then announced that her characters were both genuine and ancient, but dealt with a cure for leprosy. Something about boiled dog hair.

Ernie, Ernie, she smiles. Where are you when I need you?


Her corpulent and temporary companion pulls a Shape magazine from her purse and proceeds directly to The Kelly Ripa Workout. Kathleen scans it from the corner of her eye. The woman then flips to a little piece on the kind of tantric exercise single women are instructed to enjoy between menstrual cycles “just for themselves.” This will maintain “chi” which makes your skin glow and your eyes sparkle. Which makes you irresistible to men.

It never ends. Good Lord. What next - a history of nail gun accidents? She checks the woman’s ring finger: No diamond.

The woman, alert to Kathleen’s eavesdropping, leans over and whispers, I can tell you this works. It’s made all the difference.


You know. She smiles.

Kathleen thinks for a moment. Orgasms?

Uh hu. The woman giggles. I go off every time. I tell everybody.

The magazine is badly worn and dog-eared and Kathleen pulls over the cover to check the date: Two years old.

So exactly what are you doing with this thing up here? she asks – It’s just for airplanes?

The woman nods her head, a rapid up and down that makes her look crazy. If you’re a woman this is something you should know. I’m Baptist.


This is my ministry.

Kathleen rolls her eyes toward porthole.

The woman closes the magazine and slides it into her purse. I’m healing marriages up here. This helps with the husband. If you’re having a good time, believe me, he is, too.


The plane twists and dives, passing first over icy towers elevated grandly above shoreline and glassy avenues, then briefly over the frozen lake in a wide arc that glides them back over the city. Shrouds of steam coil wraithlike among the tops of skyscrapers, and the slanting westerly sun casts a vaporous crimson across the city, as if Chicago entire were splashed with a wash of blood. From the porthole she perceives the possibilities, something teeming and vital below that calls in a language she rarely hears yet completely understands. As the jet descends, she reclines in her seat and closes her eyes. She listens closely to the small perfumes about her, to the pulsing scents of the engines. She imagines herself invisible. No one can see me now. No one knows who I am. No one cares what I do.


and the stench and the glory of the great metropolis strike her and the shockwave smashes through her and she dies a little in that skyseat and is reborn

and dies again and is transfigured

The World!

shouts her heart shouts her heart shouts her heart

unfolds as the lotus

O help me


The Second

She upgrades her room at the Downtown Marriott on North Michigan and moves to the twenty-second floor, a corner loft overlooking Northwestern University. She lays her new clothes on the bed, then slowly undresses. Lovingly, she folds her temple garments and places these in a small cloth bag made of linen and white lace, then opens her suitcase, kisses the lace, and snaps it into a side pocket. She draws a deep hot bath and salts it with scented powder, pins her thick hair on top of her head, then dims the lights until the room is almost dark. She slides slowly down and down, until she is under and her white skin sings. What am I doing? she asks herself, then smiles and makes tiny hot bubbles with her mouth. In Chicago she is buoyed right to the busy surface of life like those little bubbles.

Light reflects from bath to ceiling, and makes patterns that dance and roll above her. There she briefly sees what appears to be a face, a king with a crown. His mouth is open; one eye is white, the other black. If she holds her hand to see just the white eye, he appears to be screaming; if she holds her hand to see just the black eye, he appears to be singing.

When the pattern changes she sees the face of Che Gueverra, whose famous visage she first encountered stenciled upon the slums of Lisbon, and whose biography she read when she returned. There were those she met who regarded him as a kind of Christ, a man who gave his life to the people, only to be thrown out with the garbage. To be thrown out with the garbage would seem a common fate of saviors, she thinks. Good thing the only one I’m trying to save is myself.


Kathleen does not believe in pre-existence because nobody in heaven would ever do earth except lunatics – although if one knows where to look and has patience, she admits, one can certainly find roses among the thorns. Some really bad stuff is going to happen to you down there, God should have warned, and lots of it is going to hurt like hell, sheer agony. Have a great life – oh, and if you’re ever in Chicago and don’t have diphtheria, try a slice of pizza at Quincy’s Brewpub on New Street. The beer’s good too, but I’m not supposed to say that.


She stands in twilight, bathtowel-wrapped, brooding over Chicago, just one outpost of the giant collapsible American empire. It’s a good city, she thinks, one she might very well enjoy living in, altogether different from Salt Lake, which is both city and not-city. She thinks of her maternal grandfather now dead, a freethinking cowboy who loved travel and encouraged her early on to abandon the Book of Mormon for Henry James. He owned a Colt .45 he called Handbomb because it exploded, but only in one direction, the direction you point it. Make sure your life’s like that, sweetheart, he had said, always point yourself toward something interesting and let ‘er rip. Grandpa had been cool on Ernie but would have liked this, she says over the city. Ah, the gene pool. Jesus is who you love when there’s no one else to love. I have lots of love. I love my kids. I love my parents. Somewhere back there I love Ernie. Thank you, grandpa. I love you, too.


She dresses carefully, still in halflight - a new back thong and black push-up bra, black pants, black blouse cut lower than anything she’s ever worn, black shoes, and a necklace of silver and amethyst she’d bought in Santa Fe during a business trip to Albuquerque. Chanel.


On West Ferdinand, between Hubbard and Grand, just a block or two from Bella’s, there is a little restaurant bar called, not surprisingly, Ferdinand’s. A non-Mormon at work had recommended it after his own business trip to Chicago. The steaks are wonderful, he had said, I drank two Teas and barely knew my name. Just two, that’s all it takes. Tea? she had asked. Long Island, he replied. Iced. You drink it with a slice of lemon. Always squeeze the lemon.


The maitre d’ finds her a good small table by the window from which she can observe the house, and after a terrific plate she takes a stool at the very corner of the bar where the light is not good and she can experiment. She orders a Tea and surveys the damage - among the couples one man who glances now and then from across the room. He is Latin, handsome - dream and nightmare both at once, and she wonders how this can be happening so fast.


She finishes her drink and feels wonderful, the opposite of coffee wonderful, but definitely on the spectrum of wonderful. She orders another, and when it arrives takes a long sip.


His lotion arrives before he does, and she knows he stands behind. The scent is heavy and tropical, but more deep than sweet, with an undertone of earth. She thinks he must be unusual to wear it. He settles on the seat beside her and says,


She whispers in Portuguese.

What? he asks softly

She whispers again.


You don’t speak Portuguese, she says.


Then what good are you?

He laughs and fluffs her blond hair with his fingers. What would you know about Portuguese, chica?

Expect nothing, she says, and pushes the Tea away. Whoa, she says, and shakes her head - This is interesting. She holds the glass up to a light and swirls the liquid, sniffs it. What’s your name?

He laughs and says, Chingo Bling for all you know.

What are you?

Not Portuguese, that’s for sure.


We complain of miracles.

The ecstatic music of the young is made in basements and garages and let out upon the world through linked computers - a miracle. Saint Matthew tells of wonders in Gethsemane. But soon these are miracles no longer, just something we expect or something that disappoints or something old and tired that holds us down and begs to be swept away by the next new thing. Yet Earth too shall pass away and cities of night and sleek bright-eyed women in clothes of second skin like halos of light remembered from -


She reaches to the bar and grips it with both hands. I’m not ready to die, she says. Not tonight, anyway. This is not L.A.

I’m sorry, he says, and rises.

Tell me your name.

Ernest. Yours?


He takes her hand and brings it tenderly to his lips. Go home Kathleen.

She watches him walk out the door, disappear into the night.

Deliverance, she says aloud, and smiles at her astonishing new life.

PD Mallamo writes in rural eastern Kansas near Lawrence (where William Burroughs died). He thought he was a farmer. He's not. He's just a writer. He does grow tomatoes, however, and peppers. The horses in the back pasture are not his.

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