SEPTEMBER 2008 – NO. 26
Driving with Roula
When he released her from the service of their long affair (a service she yearned for, and more), she bought a used car, learned to drive, took it up a hill and let it take her down, turning over itself as it went, and thank god she hadn't been wearing her seat belt. With it holding her, how on earth would she have climbed out?
The night she mentioned the long fall in her car, it rained through dinner, the water running off the roof tiles and onto my back, into my jeans. Finally, I switched seats but by then parts of my clothes were soaked. I suppose the next time I visit, we'll eat inside.
She'd caught the neighborhood kids chasing cats, throwing rocks. A long swoop of irate speech came naturally to her.
Roula said: Where do these mothers get off telling me to stop screaming at their bratty children? Haven't they read Homer? Don't they know that life is an odyssey and nothing achieved without pain?
She shifted her gaze from me to the now-invisible bruise behind the bulk of her left arm. She'd driven off a hill just two months before. Already the wounds were entirely internal.
If she didn't tell you, you wouldn't know. But the car had gone over, and over again, and she'd climbed out.
I delivered the lemons to Roula's kitchen. She was bent over, watching her crescent-shaped apple pies as they cooked. We hadn't seen each other in a while. She was cooking in the dark.
When she stood straight, her hand went to her neck and she told me about the sensation, "like a million ants crawling." I showed her what it took to bring the same thing, ants, crawling along my hands. We laughed, and she went on to tell me about her day in the village.
First she heard from her sister, whose husband needs a quadruple bypass. The wife of a cousin has had stomach pains for the last few years and a doctor has requested a colonoscopy. She said, of course you never know but when you hear of these things, it usually ends up being cancer. Then she'd walked the dirt path to see a woman who'd been a friend of her mother's and this woman told her that she'd had something removed that wasn't cancer, but then, she asked Roula, if that was so, why were they administering chemo? The woman's hair was white or gone, and she said she'd been up all night feeling sick or worrying, she couldn't tell one from the other. But, she said, as Roula prepared to leave, I feel much better now.
That comment made us break into laughter. Then, Roula finally launched into the full story of last summer's car accident.
The car turned over several times as it went down the cliff. It's not wearing her seat belt that saved her, though she knows that most of the village thinks it's her ample bosom and fat that cushioned her fall. Driving, she'd been on her way to the village festival. When the car landed and she climbed out, she felt she had to go to the dinner despite her aches and pains.
Something in her chest (she put her hand there, at the center of her huge breasts) hurt even as she spoke, welcoming the guests, congratulating them on their presence at the summer's festival.
Since then, people have told her of their awe: they knew she was in pain, they saw the mess of her car, but she stood before them and spoke, welcoming them to the village festival, in the late days of August.
The apples pies were cooling. I eyed them just before leaving the darkness Roula chooses to cook in for the light just beyond. It's not only that the dark reflects her mood or temperament. She'll tell you that darkness gives the illusion of coolness. She's always too hot; I've never seen her shiver.
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