Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Horrible Popcorn With the Madonna of Conflagration

I open the door to a huge black bag, encircled by the arms of the Madonna of Conflagration.

"This is..."

"Fifteen pounds of caramel corn."

"In a trash bag."

"Technically it's called a 'yard bag', if that makes you feel any better."

"It doesn't. Do you know what outgassing is?"

"Yes. It's something that assholes spend far too much time worrying about when they could be eating caramel corn. Now are we going to the park or what?"

Of course we go. I can't say no to her. I don't want to say no to her. It's usually to my advantage to say yes to her (eventually, anyway). Though maybe not this particular time. She's been in a mood for weeks now. The year is drifting into autumn, and the Madonna of Conflagration always takes the end of summer hard, and has for as long as I've known her. When we've settled in at the park, an uncomfortable bench beneath us, the huge black bag of sickly sweet popcorn shared on our laps, I ask her why this is.

"God man, I don't know. Maybe it's hormonal. Maybe it's something to do with astrology. Maybe I don't like the cold. Maybe I hate football. Maybe I don't like school buses. Maybe it's that Seasonal Affective Disorder thing. Maybe I'm clumsy and I don't look forward to icy sidewalks. Maybe the smell of burning leaves sets off my allergies. Maybe I hate that fucking parade with the balloons, even though I end up watching the whole fucking thing, usually while getting drunk alone."

"I've offered to watch it with you."

"It's important that I'm alone for that one. It's like a ritual."


"Aw, come on-"

"No, seriously, it's fine. It's fine. Go on."

I shovel handfuls of the terrible popcorn into my mouth while I wait for her to continue.

"Look, forget about that. This thing, this summer thing, I don't know okay? It's just weather right? I'm an intelligent person. I've made some tragically stupid moves in my life, but I'm not, like, inherently stupid right?"

"Of course not."

"Right. I just...Shit, I just, I have a lot of regrets okay? And mostly, for the most part, right, that's fine and everything because everybody does. Everybody. I mean you do, right?"

"Some. Sure."

"You've got caramel all over your face by the way. Where did you learn to eat? Could we bring up the tone here a little, please?" Like a low budget magician she pulls a wet nap out of the air. She hands me the unopened packet then looks away, as if I were about to do something terribly private.

"So yeah, most of the time it's fine. And sometimes it's not. And that's how it goes. And around this's bad."

I'm shocked to see a few tears roll down her cheek, and even more shocked when they stop almost immediately. She still isn't looking at me.

"It's really really bad. And that's all I want to say and all I want you to know. Okay?"

"I...yeah, okay."


"Right. I'm lemony fresh now by the way."

"Oh thank god." She looks back at me. "Yeah, very presentable." She looks away again.

We sit there for a while, saying nothing as the sun goes down (so early now), and the dusk comes in. I have no idea if this is what she wanted or not, or if I screwed up. Eventually she stands up, slinging the bag over her shoulder.

"You look like Santa Claus."

She smiles.

"Come on. I'll buy you a drink and we'll talk about what the hell I'm gonna do with the rest of this popcorn."

I stand up. On a whim I link arms with her. It's some kind of statement I suppose, though I couldn't tell you precisely what it means. Anyway, she accepts it gladly, and we walk out of the park, in step and looking downright jaunty. Something has readjusted itself, some equilibrium has been regained. Neither of us knows what it is precisely, but we take a great deal of comfort from it. There's a lot of things we share that could be described that way.

I poke the bag with my free hand.

"Where did you get that crap anyway?"

She shakes her head and puts a finger to her lips.

"It's a secret."

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