box of jars

margaret hart
sometimes enough

Hi Patti, it's mom. It's October 25, five days 'til Halloween! Remember when you dressed up like Raggedy Ann? You were such a beautiful little girl. I know you won't want to dress up these days, but I had to call and tell you that I saw the most perfect sailor costume online today, only $29.99. You always have looked nice in stripes, with your slender figure. Anyway, I'm doing well. Today I made a tuna sandwich but I didn't have any Mayo and my toaster hasn't been working. It was just awful, as you can imagine, ha-ha! What I really wanted to share with you, though, sweetie, is this: Every thought has a frequency, and when you allow your truest thoughts to send out magnetic energy, that's when you're you. Visualize, babe. Love you. Call back.

Patricia flips through On the Fast Track to Becoming YOU. After a while she bundles up and goes for a walk in the late afternoon. At the corner store she buys a paper, not wanting to read a self-help book in public, and she walks a few more blocks away to the café on Maple Street. Edward is there. She takes an inordinate amount of time examining the ads on a bulletin board near the entrance, dog walkers, saving the environment, lost cats, and music lessons are advertised. She steals sidelong glances of Edward, who is engrossed in the New York Times. Patricia orders a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from the young-looking barista and watches a young toddler climb into his mother's lap and play with her face which stretches with ease. Not far from them, over by the window, an old woman and a young girl are laughing loudly, the old woman gesturing wildly with her hands, the hairs above the young woman's upper lip glimmering in the artificial light. This, for an unknown reason, reminds Patricia of being a child during the summer months. Patricia goes over to ask Edward if she can sit and read with him. This is a noticeably friendly move, considering that only six out of the twenty or so seats in the café are filled. He smiles and says of course, and with his palm open gestures to the chair. Patricia thinks: this could be the last time we ever see each other, this could be either of our birthdays.

They read the paper. Patricia has a difficult time concentrating on sentences. Her mind is occupied with the refrain of her mother's voice: that's when you're you. And when Edward sees that Patricia is reading about Philip Roth they discuss the fact that they are both from New Jersey, and it's nice, although neither have ever heard of the other's hometown, and they don't really talk about Philip Roth because even though Edward actually asked about what the article was saying about Nemesis, Patricia had neither read the novel nor had she actually been reading the article about the novel. They talk about their experiences with Newark Airport and the Newark Broad Street train station and then they stop talking after a while because New Jersey can only take the conversation so far.

After the lull Patricia is seized by an uncontrollable urge to acknowledge Edward's freckles, of which she has been puzzling over in her mind's eye ever since she met him, like some sort of unsolvable mystery. She does so often just before falling sleep, assembling and reassembling the small marks on his face, zooming into his nose to discern the exact shape of them. Sometimes her imagination takes freckles away and sometimes it adds many more, making his face appear distraught, overcrowded. In her image of him Edward's eyes are closed and his mouth is just slightly agape and he is holding a cigar, from which smoke obscures the elegiac portrait.

She opens her mouth to find the courage and freezes at the sight of his unwavering eye contact. As if to conceal her constructed image of him she quickly asks, "Can I tell you something?"

"Sure," Edward says.

"So, in old portraits, like before 1900, it's hard to find anyone with freckles. Have you ever seen a portrait of someone with freckles before 1900?"

"Not that I can recall."

"Right, well that's because for most of human history people never had freckles. One day, long ago, in Mexico, two friends, a tall man and a short man, are sitting around. The short man stands up and says, 'I have an idea, why don't we paint what we want from life?' The tall man laughs at him but the short man is serious, and so he storms off and paints the most marvelous painting the world has ever seen." At this point Patricia catches her breath and smiles, delighting in the suspense. Edward listens intently, only half confused and slightly overwhelmed by the noises of a world without earplugs.

"So the short man's painting becomes a wild success and he moves to New York. His friend, the tall man, jealous of his success, decides to visit him. When the tall man arrives in the city, at the address his friend gave him, the short man is no where to be found. He's upset, but peering into his the short man's mansion he notices a big wine cellar and figures he'll steal a bottle, just one, because the short man has so many and the tall man had come so far to see him, so the least he could do is get drunk.

"So the tall man breaks in and starts drinking, waiting for his now-rich short friend, but instead, hoards of the American bourgeoisie begin showing up and partying. They even start treating the tall man like he is the short man, shaking his hand, complimenting his artistic vision, giving him food and gifts, and somehow the tall man understands them even though the tall man can't speak English. The tall man goes down to the wine cellar to retrieve more drinks, not wanting to be a bad host. He grabs one of bottles from the cellar and he's so drunk and overwhelmed by his new environment that he doesn't even realize that the bottle is from Mexico and has ancient writings on it. So he uncorks the ancient bottle and wine sprays everywhere, all over the apartment, all over all the white New York bourgeoisie partygoers. So that's where freckles come from and that's why they say that freckles are a sign of nobility and a high appreciation of art and fun."

Edward asks, "Who says that?"

"Many people."

Patricia feels self-conscious upon ending and adds that she is, of course, kidding. Patricia remembers something like this in, On the Fast Track to Becoming YOU: The main way that you are not You is when you inscribe hieroglyphs of doubt on the hourglass of your Life. She has begun repeating this phrase in her head during intervals of uncertainty such as the one at hand. But then Edward's laughter resounds belatedly, in a way that Patricia interprets as uncharacteristic.