Marwa – Part XVMay 3rd, 2010 | By Lois Bassen | Category: Marwa, Series | 790 views
Returning to her parents’ home and was like trying to fit into tight shoes like one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters. She’d been home a week, and August had only one more to go, then Labor Day and school would start on Thursday. Marwa was meeting up with Judy in an hour. She opened her notebook where Joey had written after her last entry:
“Your wrong about bees. Honey isnt bee doody. Bees have 2 stomicks. 2 kinds of worker bees 1 gets necter and pollen the other kind chews the nectar for a 1/2 hour adds ENZYMES. Bees also eat pollen. Bees do 2 dances a Waggle dance and a Round Dance. About how far away the flowers are. Waggle Dance looks like 8 for more far away food. Bees can see where the Sun is even when its clowdy. It isnt doody. A man in 1973 had to share the Noble prize for discovering The Rose Stone of the bees dance. It is pyook. The collector bees vomet to the chewy bees. They throw it up and put it in the hive chambers wich have 6 sides like snowflakes. Sorry Your Brother, Joey
Sorry?! Marwa could murder him! She stormed into his room and looked around for something to take. Since the Niagara Falls pop-up book was lying beside his pillow, Marwa stole that and hid it in her room where Joey would find it, but the point was she would have to take her notebook everywhere. Marwa was outraged, but she was also glad that honey was not doody.
Marwa met up with Judy midway between Greenwich Village and Battery Park City , at Adonis Piercing & Tattoo on Canal Street where Judy had made an appointment to have a boat tattooed to the back of her right shoulder. Afterwards, Judy said, they should act like tourists and visit the South Street Seaport. Both teenagers wore tube tops. It was a steamy August day in New York City , and Judy also wore shorts and sandals, but Marwa had on 2/3 of the outfit her mother had laid out as a welcome-home gift, a royal blue tube top with a reversible, bright yellow and blue long skirt. A long-sleeved blouse, “For modesty,” Marwa said, “was too hot even to talk about.”
“Your mom’s trying,” Judy said.
“I thought I would be the black sheep, but thanks to Sharif’s not returning from Alexandria , my parents are so upset, and my father is so angry with my mother like it’s her fault Sharif isn’t coming home, I’m at least third on the family doody list.”
Judy entered Adonis Piercing & Tattoo first. A brief, electronic melody sounded. “What is up with Sharif, anyway?”
“(A),” Marwa answered, “the computer department at the bank where he’s working doesn’t want him to leave and he can finish his degree in Alexandria at their expense, and (B) he got engaged to a distant cousin who works at that bank. My mom’s family manipulated the whole thing, and my father is furious.”
A muscled black man with a shaved scalp passed through a doorway of hanging beads. “I’ll be right with you, Ms. — ?”
“Yamaguchi,” Judy said.
He checked a schedule book. Then he looked at Marwa,
“I’m not sure yet,” Marwa said.
“Never let anyone talk you into doing anything you don’t want to do. That’s the sign of a disreputable shop.” He smiled. “People call me Adonis. Choose something from the wall, perhaps, or take a seat.”
Adonis parted the hanging beads and returned to the back of the store. Judy and Marwa examinedthe framed images of tattoo possibilities, flowers, animals, names, and a array of vehicles: rockets, motorcycles, jetplanes, boats.
“Adonis makes a good impression,” Judy said. She pointed out a miniature of a high-prowed, small yacht. “Shakespeare and I went around Baltimore harbor in one just like that! It’s exactly what he got tattooed on his right shoulder.”
“Why are you having a boat engraved on yours?” Marwa said.
Judy’s Eurasian complexion darkened. “To make a blood memory. My mom took me to have my ears pierced when I was 13. I thought it was for birthday, but I didn’t know she was dying. Shakespeare had it done down in Baltimore right after. ”
“After the boatride?”
“No,” Judy said.
Marwa felt dizzy. “Why? Stop calling him Shakespeare! He’s girafee-Jimmy-Wagstaff!”
“Shh! So he’s not on billboards.His eyes are pale as gin or vodka.”
“Vodka. Amantes sunt amentes,” Marwa said quietly.
“Who’re you calling a sunt?” Judy grinned.
“‘Lovers are lunatics.’ You’re crazy about him,” Marwa said.
“I do feel crazy. He leaves for college in three days, it hurts so much.”
“Hurt so much?”
Judy whispered, “You know how your mouth waters when you see and smell something delicious?”
Judy waited for Marwa to nod.
“It’s like that.Women have two mouths. The better to eat you with!” Judy growled.
Marwa swatted her away. “You are crazy!”
“What about Marcus and the Brookhaven turkeys and Prix in the Hampton bathnausium? What about Desiree Lipshitz?”
Adonis appeared with a tall, gaunt client of indeterminate gender, his/her forearm covered in a new, white bandage. S/he smiled at the teenagers and said, “He knows what he’s doing.”
Adonis led Judy and Marwa to the back of the store, which was like a beauty parlor. There were two other tattoo artists at work. Once Judy showed Adonis her choice, he sat her in a barber chair and prepared “the operating field.” The needled instrument buzzed like a dentist’s drill; at its first touch, a bead of blood appeared which Adonis dabbed, then injected ink. Marwa swayed.
“Relax in the waiting room, hon?” Adonis advised.
Marwa passed through the hanging beads in a daze. From her small backpack, she took out the antique book that had been Desiree’s parting gift, GEORGE ELIOT’S POETRY AND OTHER STUDIES by ROSE * E * CLEVELAND, New York: Funk & Wagnells, 1885. 10 and 12 Dey Street , where the book had been published in 1885, walking distance from Marwa’s apartment, three blocks south of City Hall. Marwa sat down in a plastic chair and drank from a cold water bottle she carried with her notebook. She tried to calm her queasiness by rereading the pages Desiree had underlined in red. In Rose Cleveland’s essay “Altruistic Faith”, Desiree identified herself-as-Kadijah to Marwa-as-Muhammad. Desiree had capitalized and changed the masculine nouns and pronouns to the feminine.
“Though my Cadijah love me as her own soul, and have set her whole heart on me, she cannot…persuade herself that I can be what I cannot be. She can only perceive me to be what I can be. Cadijah is a seer, but she is not a visionary. She wields a diviner’s rod, but not a wizard’s wand.
The historical Cadijah was, I venture, greatly enamored of her young and historical lord.But I am not sure she thought HER a great prophet or a spotless priest. What I am sure of is, that this shrewd, devoted woman perceived HER to be a born predestined leader, a WOMAN of destiny, one to sway multitudes with the mighty magnetism of HER personality; a WOMAN to beckon and be followed; a WOMAN to speak and be believed; a WOMAN to command and be obeyed.
She saw the oak in the acorn with this sixth sense of hers. She believed in HER when all men despised HER, but she did not give HER hero-worship.”
In the last essay of the Cleveland book, Desiree saw Marwa as Joan of Arc: “Faith! Faith! that was Joan’s lever–the lever by which that little hand moved the world–literally moved the world, for Orleans was France , and England was the world.”
Marwa turned back a few pages for something else: Yes, here it was, “I reduce all the miracle, and marvel, and mystery of Joan’s history to the extraordinary development of one human capacity–love; the extraordinary exercise of one human capacity–faith.”
How much energy Desiree had put into this gift! She heard the buzzing of Adonis’s tattoo needle, but she saw the red of Judy’s blood turning into the red anemone that rhymed with Prix. Marwa put away the Cleveland book in her backpack.
The door opened; the electronic melody played. Marwa looked outside to hot and crowded Canal Street . A gay couple entering brought in a wave of steaming heat, like taking the lid off a boiling pot. Marwa thought: the Romans didn’t distinguish between heterosexual and homosexual, but between sexual penetration, which indicated power, and submission to penetration, which represented subordination. Powerless people, regardless of sex, would be expected to submit to penetration. Homosexual sex wasn’t considered less manly if you did the penetrating. But Judy with her two drooling mouths didn’t feel subordinate to Jimmy Wagstaff!
Later, when Marwa and Judy stood on the deck of the fire-engine-red tugboat Helen McAllister at the South Street Seaport, it was deadly hot. Both girls were sucking at cold bottles of water. Judy swallowed and said, “Isn’t it against your rules?”as she reached out to touch the tip of one of Marwa’s newly pierced ears. “How do they feel?”
“Hot. Hotter. Go put metal in your ears today. You’re the one who mutilated Allah’s creation with a tattoo. Ear piercing’s allowed for females because the Prophet told some women to give up their earrings as an offering, so he was okay with earrings. How do you feel?”
“The heat’s baking it, but I’m sweating so much, I hope the boat won’t float away. Sweat makes it burn more. But I like the hurt.”
Marwa knew what Judy meant, which scared her. She looked out to the East River and New York Bay beyond Ellis Island . A breeze off the ocean briefly cooled their damp skin. “We’re crazier than the tourists. We don’t have to be here in this.”
They moved with the group that had gotten on the tugboat with them, including a British woman who had announced at the entrance to the tour at the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse that her grandmother had survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. “God went down with the Titanic, myGran always said.”
Judy whispered to Marwa, “My father always says, ‘Follow your blister.”
As they followed their tour guide, he directed the group’s attention with his canned speech and flailing arms, pointing at tall-masted ships and smaller boats floating at the piers. “White-maned Walt Whitman once described New York as the ‘City of Ships’, and South Street, in the early 19th century, was known as the ‘Street of Ships’. In those days, this waterfront was a forest of masts, spars, and jibbooms…”
The group laughed at the word, and the guide went on about South Street being “lined with ship chandlers’ offices and saloons like Jip and Jake’s and Shanghai Brown’s swarming with tattooed sailors,” at which Marwa touched her friend’s bandaged shoulder, and Judy ducked away. They escaped the tour as the guide intoned, “The odor of rum, molasses, wine, and spices was intoxicating right here…”
Marwa could not get Judy’s blood out of her mind. The last spotting days of her August period (checking the calendar, August 31, shouldn’t it be over?) was a constant reminder. So much red in the world, and Mars was a red planet. Was it all iron?
Checking in on the Stuyvesant High School website before school opened, as they were expected to do, Marwa saw a yearlong project assignment, and decided to use Desiree’s gift. Red Rose Elizabeth Cleveland (sure to bliss out her new teacher) had written to someone named Evangeline in 1890, “Ah, how I love you, it paralyzes me–it makes me heavy with emotion…I tremble at the thought of you–all my being leans out to you…I dare not think of your arms.” Rose Elizabeth and Evangeline were eventually buried side by side in Bagni di Lucca (Luke’s Baths) in Tuscany , Italy .
“Evangeline Whipple was the longtime lesbian friend of Rose Cleveland, the spinster sister of President Grover Cleveland. When Minnesota Bishop Henry Whipple, who was 40 years older than his second wife, died in 1901, Evangeline waited the required year and then left for Italy . She and Rose lived together in Bagni di Lucca until Rose died in 1918. Together, they performed many acts of heroic service for Italian victims of World War I.
The Right Reverend Henry Benjamin Whipple, Bishop of Minnesota (1822-1901), was called in 1856 to establish the first Protestant Episcopal Church in Chicago , Illinois . Among his parishioners were Generals Burnside and McClellan…He was loyal and fearless in protecting the right of the Indians in Minnesota against unlawful aggressions on the part of unscrupulous whites. Whipple stood preeminently as the most rational, just and enlightened man who had any dealing with Indian affairs and for his sincerity and directness the Indians gave him the name ‘Straight Tongue’.
He gave clear warning of the Indian massacre that occurred in 1862… On June 3, 1897, he preached in Salisbury Cathedral (England) at the great service in commemoration of the 1300th anniversary of the baptism of King Ethelbert, the first Christian Saxon king, with a congregation of 700 persons, a procession of 700 bishops and vested clergy and 1400 choristers… It was said by many…that Bishop Whipple seemed to reach the zenith of impassioned outpouring of spiritual truths, striking the keynote of everything most needed in the Christianization of the world…”
The Indian massacre in 1862 interested Marwa. Had the Indians massacred Europeans or vice verse? There was another massacre of Indians two years later, on November 29, 1864 : 150 peaceful Cheyennes were murdered at a place called Sand Creek. Marwa thought: Civil War and Indian Wars; what an orgy of killing there was in North America in the 6th decade of the 19th century. Marwa also collected, from obituaries of President Grover Cleveland, some interesting bits like, “ Cleveland against his own will was morally the founder of the present American imperialism.” Present meant Berlin , June 25, 1908 .
The front page of The New York Times, same date, began, MR. CLEVELAND IS DEAD AT 71, Succumbs to a Heart Attack in His Princeton Home After Seeming to Rally. DIES ON THE DAY OF THE VENEZUELA BREAK — Mr. Cleveland’s Most Famous Act Recalled to Many by a Coincidence. HIS RINGING MESSAGE — It Frightened Many, but Raised an Issue That Left the Monroe Doctrine Firmly Established. By an odd coincidence, Mr. Cleveland’s death on June 24th occurred on the day on which it was also made known that the United States had broken off relations with Venezuela , the Charge d’Affaires of this country having left Caracas . The coincidence served to recall with doubled significance the supreme act of Mr. Cleveland’s career — his message on the Venezuelan boundary dispute in 1895, his interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, and his insistence that it be enforced.
“Cleveland against his own will was morally the founder of the present American imperialism.” Marwa had underlined the phrase the first time and returned to it. What could that mean? Unknotting that concept could be her senior project.
Grover Cleveland was on the $1000 bill, but when he died, he had little money of any kind. Marwa was in her bedroom reading and printing out notes when Joey interrupted, announcing like a trumpet,“O-sita-dimma Bem! ‘May-things-be-better-from-today-and-forever,’-and-his-last-name-means-Peace.”
Ositadimma Bem was a former classmate of Joey’s with skin much blacker than Lem’s who was now at Duke (Vivian Cheng had called as soon as she’d seen the assignment). Joey’s playmate was Nigerian, and although he lived in their building, he and Joey didn’t attend the same school anymore. When Marwa’s mother had learned that the Battery Park City P.S. 89 (closer to their apartment) had high scores, just not as high as P.S. 234’s, “Independence School” (across West Street, closer to Marwa at Stuy), she had moved heaven and earth to place Joey in the “even better” school, and, “If Joey gets sick at school, and I’m at work, you can take him home,” her mother ordered.
Marwa was ready to tell Joey that Mrs. al-Banna had her hands full with one almost-a-3rd-grader, but the black boy at the door held up a $100 bill and put his finger on his lip, as if directed to silence her. He put the $100 in his shorts pocket and handed Marwa a small envelope.
Marwa faced the door to Prix’s apartment. It opened, and Prix, golden and tan and green-eyed wasn’t smiling, but he looked relieved.
“You pierced your ears,” Prix said.
“I thought you were going to DC. Or LA.”
“Soon. Not today.”
Marwa looked around the apartment, the same size as her parents’ although it was laid out differently. The view was scopic of the bay and the river and the bridge to the north. There were screens at the open windows. A hot breeze would have billowed sheer curtains if there had been any.
“I know this room,” Marwa said. “We saw it in a design magazine in art.”
Prix was quiet. He was barefoot, shirtless, and wearing light, loose-fitting drawstring shorts. No lights were on. Fans hummed. Natural light came in with the hot air from the wall of windows, and where it did not reach there were shadows. Prix stood in one of them.
“It said the apartment’s owner was ‘a jewel in a Tiffany setting,’ but no name or your picture.”
“I don’t need three bedrooms,” Prix said. “But I have them.”
He took her hand. His was cool. He led her down a long hallway unlike the minimalist public spaces, decorated with multicultural masks. Prix guided to touch one at shoulder-height: modern, a laquered papier mache bull head with real horns but an open, grinning human mouth.
“The Minotaur,” Prix said. He released her hand and pointed to several others. “By the same artist, Pan (a giant, goat-eared head with one open, one winking human eye), and Chimera (long, curved goat horns, a lion’s nose and fanged open mouth, human eyes). These,” he indicated other masks as he named them, “come from India and Japan and Africa . My prize,” as he pointed it out, “is from Burundi .”
“They weren’t in the magazine.”
“I asked them not to,” Prix said, taking her hand again.
Marwa hesitated at a bathroom of lightbrown colored glass and stainless steel. “But you have no mirror,” she said. “How do you shave?”
“I know my face.”
The only object in the bedroom that registered on Marwa’s consciousness besides the wide platform bed was a standing globe by the window. Prix was still holding her hand, and her palms were sweating. She walked to the globe and turned it slowly. She thought, with my back to the window, my face is in shadow.
Prix never smiled. He tossed cushions onto the floor and pulled back a cover, untied the drawstring of his shorts and stepped out of them. He walked naked across the room and began to undress her without a word. There were sounds: from the street far below; of the breeze through the softly rattling screen; of thin blinds pulled to the ceiling. Of his breathing as he unbuttoned her sleeveless blouse, and the loud noise of a zipper.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Marwa said.
“I’ll take care of everything.”
But she pulled away and rushed behind a door she thanked God wasn’t a closet and locked it behind her. She didn’t understand but feared her period had suddenly returned, that the flood she had felt had not only stained her panties but must’ve pooled on the bedroom floor. When she looked, the lightdays pad was hardly pink but it was saturated. Her little backpack was in the living room. She pulled the pad away from her panties, wrapped it in toilet paper, put it in a wastebasket, and opened the door. Prix was lying down on the bed, one arm angled above his head, leaning against a wooden headboard that ran the length of the wall. He wasn’t even looking at her.
What followed, Marwa relived for the rest of her life, re-membering it with a near endless recycling of particular details related to other experiences and thoughts that never could or would repeat its reality. Still, it was a luxurious series of moments that nearly satisfied even her competitive urge. She might not be first, but hers was best.
He led her through the new geography as an experienced guide; he was patient, but sharp and rough when the ground called for it. The consummate professional, Prix inspired confidence and diverted selfconsciousness. Only decades later would Marwa also believe that his disappointment — in her hungry eagerness to learn what he wished he did not know — added to that afternoon a color that had no name — because only Perfect Innocence can desire more than Beauty. Its echo was therefore all the more human.
It had movements, like a symphony. At last, he led her into the bathroom, to the glassed-in shower. Out of the wooden wall like the inside of a tree, a wide and deep wooden seat seemed carved, fragrant in the steamy water that cascaded over them, reminiscent of the moviestar’s cedar sauna. He soaped her and taught her how to wash him, and then he poured oils on them both, directing her to face him on his lap where again they joined. That was the last time.
And all, nearly all, without words. Sublime.
He patted her dry and warmed her and gave her cool water to drink.
Everything else that followed was sculpted in sharp, stone relief.
She remembered the blood on his sheets.Help Support T21 with your Dollar Donation Today
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